Pioneering Radio Syndicator Tom Rounds Dies at 77

Courtesy of Radio Express, INC

The "American Top 40" producer was a rock festival, music video and international radio syndication innovator.

Tom Rounds, radio broadcasting innovator and producer of the iconic countdown show American Top 40 With Casey Kasem, died last night in Los Angeles from complications related to a minor surgical procedure. He was 77.

His wife and business partner of 49 years, Barbara Rounds, was at his bedside. Rounds is survived by his wife, daughter Michelle, son Tommy, stepdaughter Debbie and grandchildren Eli, Margaux, Lucy and Nicco.

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Rounds was founder and CEO of Radio Express, Inc., the world’s leading supplier of entertainment programming to radio outside the U.S. He founded the largest American syndicator, Watermark, in the late 1960s. In 1970, with Casey Kasem and Don Bustany, he headed the team that launched and marketed American Top 40 With Casey Kasem. The program reached audiences at more than 500 radio stations in the United States by the 1980s. ABC acquired Watermark in 1982, and Rounds started Radio Express in 1985 with ABC as its first program supplier. In 1990, he introduced American Top 40 syndicated programming into the Soviet Union, adding that country to the list of 70 countries outside the U.S. where the program was heard. The company was the first to introduce barter syndication to the international radio world.

Rounds earned degrees in English and music from Amherst College, where he managed the college radio station, WAMH, in the late 1950s. He started his professional radio career at WINS in New York, and then moved to KPOI in Honolulu, as pd and afternoon on-air personality. In 1966, he became pd of KFRC in San Francisco, which dominated the market for 14 years. While at KFRC, Rounds began promoting large multi-act concerts to benefit charity and promote the station. After holding the Beach Boys Summer Spectacular at the Cow Palace in 1966, Rounds and KFRC conceived of a large outdoor festival featuring a fair atmosphere. The KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival was held in June 1967 at Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County, to support the Hunters Point Child Care Center. The festival, considered the first in rock history, featured Jefferson Airplane, the 5th Dimension and the Doors, among others, and drew nearly 60,000 attendees, preceding the Monterey Pop Festival by one week. When Rounds left KFRC L.A., the move was featured on the cover of the very first issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

Rounds then joined Amherst classmate Peter Gardiner in a new L.A.-based music video production company, Charlatan Productions, producing several promotional clips for acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and the Animals.

Rounds continued to be involved with the promotion of large-scale music events in markets associated with Bill Drake. In 1964, he joined with another Honolulu entertainment entrepreneur, Tom Moffat, and Ron Jacobs to form Arena Associates, to bring mainland music acts to the newly built Blaisdell Center. The most prominent of the events was the Miami Pop II Festival, held in December 1968, which
The New York Times called “the first significant major pop festival held on the East Coast.”

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Radio Express vp sales Jessica d’Agostin said: "We are deeply saddened by T.R.’s passing and will miss his humor, his wisdom and his kindness profoundly. He was a great man and loved his wife, his family and radio with all his heart. We will continue to move forward at Radio Express in his honor and as a living tribute to the example T.R. set for excellence in all things."

"He went in for a simple stent in his heart and something went wrong," says Linda Meyers Naylor, the first and former wife of Casey Kasem. "I still remember when T.R., Casey and Don Bustany did the first American Top 40 show. It took 24 hours."

A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles at Forest Lawn -- Hollywood Hills on Sunday, June 8, at 5 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to the City of Hope Cancer Center.