Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Casey Kasem’s Vocal Talents Helped Make “Scooby-Doo” a Star of Saturday Morning

Before this radio legend reached for the stars with his feet on the ground, he joined the voice cast of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You, a cartoon that has stood the test of time.

by Rich Watson 

This post is part of the ninth edition of the Favorite TV Show Blogathon, a blog event. At the end, I’ll tell you where to find more posts like this.

Casey Kasem taught America how to count backwards. His syndicated radio show, American Top 40, told listeners which songs were popular each week. He also educated them about the musicians and their songs, answered questions about them, and dedicated songs by request.

In addition, he sustained a long career as a voice actor for animated series. One in particular continues to grow and evolve, over fifty years after its creation.

Casey Kasem’s multimedia beginnings

Casey knew radio. The former Kemal Amin Kasem got into radio while in high school, college, and Armed Forces Radio in Korea. 

Professionally, he worked all over the country in radio—Michigan, Cleveland, Buffalo, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. He avoided the payola scandals by deliberately poking fun at them: in Cleveland he had a comedy routine called the “Payola Tune of the Night.”

In 1964, when the Beatles were hot in America, he made a spoken-word record about them.

Casey knew TV. He had dabbled in off-Broadway theater in New York during the mid-fifties. This led to more successful opportunities in the sixties, in dramatic TV shows. He also hosted the teen music show Shebang.

Casey knew movies too. He appeared in a few B-movies during the late sixties and early seventies, with the likes of Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper.

Voice acting

Voice-over work was a vital part of Kasem’s career. He did commercials, radio dramas, and eventually, voices for cartoon shows.

In 1968, he worked on a cartoon character voice which was arguably his second most popular: Robin, the Boy Wonder, Batman’s sidekick. He voiced the teen superhero in Filmation’s The Batman/Superman Hour and, later on, in Hanna-Barbera’s series of Superfriends shows. Here’s an appreciation of Kasem as Robin.

The next year, he landed regular roles on the series Cattanooga Cats for HB and an adaptation of the Mattel toy line Hot Wheels. 

Then came a new series about a gang of teenage sleuths and their pet Great Dane.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears for HB. (Does it bother anyone else that there’s an exclamation point in the title and not a question mark?) The show’s origins are interesting.

When I auditioned for Shaggy, they showed me a picture so I knew he was supposed to be a hippie. I combined two voices: sort of an attitude of Dave Hull, who was a disc jockey on KRLA, and the actor who played on Our Miss Brooks, Richard Krenna, whose character spoke in a high squeaky voice and was always very breathy.

They called me back three or four times and the guy who was auditioning me was an actor who could do a great hippie voice and I thought he was just right for it. I got the part and the show lasted on the network for twenty-three years.
Don Messick, Frank Welker, Nicole Jaffe and Stefanianna Christopherson rounded out the original voice cast. 

“What a Night For a Knight”

The debut episode, “What a Night For a Knight,” established the premise and the characters well.

Shaggy and Scooby stumble upon an abandoned vehicle with a medieval suit of armor inside. Along with the rest of the team, they return the armor to its rightful owner at a local museum, but learn the delivery man’s disappearance is tied to a supposed legend surrounding the armor and its original occupant. This being Scooby-Doo, of course, things are not what they seem.

“Knight” isn’t a proper origin story for the Scooby Gang. They’re already in place as a team of mystery-solvers. They seem very much like the characters we’ve come to know and love: 
  • leader Fred, 
  • alpha chick Daphne, 
  • brainy chick Velma, and 
  • comedy relief stooges Shaggy and Scooby. 
That’s probably key to their longevity.

I’d never noticed before how well each character’s design also define them. Fred has better posture than Shaggy. Daphne’s dress shows off her figure more than Velma’s shapeless sweater. Maybe that’s why Daphne usually stands with her hands on her hips. Even the way each character runs is distinct.

Kasem said in the early years of his voice work, he tended to sound youthful. While his voice was recognizable, it did also sound young, though in a different way from his Robin, a more heroic figure.

For years, I’d thought of Scooby as a product of the counterculture sixties. Young people had begun to question much about society during this time. It was, after all, the era of “never trust anyone over thirty.” 

The Scooby Gang’s skepticism in what authority figures tell them about the supernatural echoes the skepticism towards Nixon and Vietnam. They never buy it, except of course, for Shaggy and Scooby, who are proven wrong by Fred, Daphne and Velma in the end—until next Saturday’s episode.

Scooby lasted one season, but its popularity lead to a long string of spinoffs, TV movies, theatrical films and reboots that continues to this day.

The roots of American Top 40

In 1970, Kasem co-created AT40. It might not have happened the way it did, but for a chance incident.

In his early radio career he came across as an Alan Freed-like motormouth. In San Francisco, his general manager suggested he tone down his delivery instead and discuss the records.

While working in Oakland, Kasem discovered a magazine, Who’s Who in Pop Music in 1962, in a trash can. The station’s janitor was about to throw it away. It contained loads of pop singer trivia. 

Kasem decided to use trivia to storytell. 

The combination of his new, calmer approach to broadcasting and his use of trivia made him a top DJ in Los Angeles by 1963. It launched his voiceover work. 

And it made AT40 possible.



More entries in the Favorite TV Show Blogathon can be found at A Shroud of Thoughts, from March 24-26


  1. I remember Casey Kasem, and it was fun to read some background information on him and his radio work.
    Make Mine Film Noir

  2. Thanks. I grew up with AT40, not to mention SCOOBY and many of the cartoons he worked on, so I liked learning more about him. Check out some of the other posts on deejays I’ve written from earlier this year.

  3. Very interesting overview of Kasem's career! I used to listen to Casey's Top 40 program intermittently for years. It was kind of like listening to a friend in the business who had a endless supply of interesting stories. It figures he did lots of voice work for TV, but I never realized he was the voice of Shaggy. Your article reminded me that he also did a number of movies -- now I'm going to have to look him up on IMDb!

  4. To be honest, I never had much interest in the movies he made, but it’s cool that it was part of his career, along with so many other things.

  5. I remember Kasey Kasem's Top 40 program well and I listened to it every week! Of course, it was later (although I was still young) that I learned of his voice work. He really did have a talent for it. I have to think Scooby-Doo... might not have been as successful without him breathing life into Shaggy! Anyway, thanks for taking part in the blogathon!

  6. I used to record songs from AT40 onto a mixtape. I had dozens of them throughout the 80s.