Like many kids growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s, Casey Kasem was part of Michael Wolfe’s life.
But the teenager did not just listen to “American Top 40.” He was obsessed by it.
And when WNEW-FM did its annual countdown of the 1,000 greatest rock songs of all time, Wolfe sat in his New Rochelle home and followed it with “uncommon interest.”
He is not a musician. He did not become a DJ.
But — 4 decades later — Wolfe’s fascination with countdowns remains.
Thanks to the wonders of podcasts, he’s sharing it with the world.
Wolfe — now an 18-year Westport resident — spent more than 2 decades as a publisher or assistant publisher of consumer magazines like GQ, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone. When the media landscape changed, he developed his own marketing and content business. He does PR consulting too, and is working on a documentary film.
For even longer, he’s known David Yas.
As undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, they bonded over their shared “strange, pathetic passion for music trivia.”
A couple of years ago Yas — who has a law degree, worked as a financial advisor and, most recently, founded the pod617 podcast network in Boston — and Wolfe started talking about ways they might share their love of countdowns with the world.
“We’re fans. We’re not music journalists or ultimate authorities,” Wolfe explains. “We wanted to talk about the songs that worked, the ones that didn’t, the ones that embarrassed us. We’d do it with an educational element, and we’d dive deep. But we’re not academics.”
The result is “Past Tens: A Top 10 Time Machine.” Once a week they post the Top 10 of that same week from a randomly generated year — any one from 1960 to 2000. For over an hour, the old friends count the songs down, and riff on both the music and the era.
The other day for example, they explored 1978. The podcast’s title was “Best Music Week Ever? Bee Real.” (’78 was the height — or depth — of disco. “Bee Real” is a nod to the genre’s icons, the Bee Gees.)
Other recent years include 1973, ’87, ’80, and “The Head-Shaking Music of 1992.”
The podcast is sometimes taped in Boston, sometimes here.
Wolfe takes care of the research. He unearths plenty of interesting information. (Who knew that Joe Walsh played backup on many Andy Gibb hits?)
But he’s always learning. After hearing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” on the 1969 countdown, for example, I told him the song had been recorded in Bridgeport. That was news to him.
Yas handles the production end. Yet nothing is planned. Yas hears the countdown for the first time — just like the thousands of other listeners.
“Our discussion is truly live,” Wolfe says. “We just turn on the music, talk and laugh. That’s why listeners like it.”
The chat veers between songs they love and hate; those that have stood the test of time, and those that haven’t. Occasionally they take heavy detours, like debating whether Michael Jackson’s music can be separated from his actions.
(Wolfe and Yas agreed: His songs may mean something different now, but they are always part of the place they occupied in our own personal histories.)
And boy, do listeners provide feedback. “How could you not love ‘Brandy’?!” one woman complained, after Wolfe and Yas trashed the tune that everyone else on the planet adores. Of course, arguments about “Brandy” are part of the fun.
“There’s so much angst and anger in the podcast world. Pop culture keeps us light,” Wolfe says.
Standing out in the podcast world is not easy. Wolfe says there are 700,000 or so out there. Right now they’re doing that by work of mouth. But they’re looking at marketing plans, and talking to networks to expand their reach.
The countdown concept is scalable too. Wolfe says they could look back at the Top 10 TV shows of a given year, or People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People.
For now though, he and Yas are concentrating on music.
(“Past Tens: A Top 10 Time Machine” is available on Spotify, Adori, and pretty much everywhere else you find podcasts. Or you can click here for the website.)