Emma Murray. (ISU photo)

An Iowa State University professor is creating a podcast that tracks the subjects of letters written to the host of the popular syndicated radio program “American Top 40.”

Emma Murray says she got the idea for a podcast while traveling to Council Bluffs listening to a rerun of the program in 2018. ” I heard this letter that was submitted back in 1983 in August by a woman from Cedar Rapids and I was like I bet I could find this person,” she says. “And so that was where it began. Love radio, love those letters that were written by people from all over the world into Casey Kasem’s program and ended up finding that person from the 1983 episode and have just kept going from there.”

Kasem would dedicate a song to the person writing the letter based on what they had to say. Murray is an assistant professor of English and started working with her students on the project last fall. She says they are creating a database featuring the “Dear Casey” letters that aired on the broadcast.

“There are over 2,600 letters that were written — so we are building a database to find these people one by one, reach out to them and tell their stories about — okay you wrote this letter anywhere from 1978 to the early 2000s — where are you now?,” she says.

Murray says it has been fun to talk to people about their old letters. “The response has been interesting. Most people think, ‘Ah, I didn’t think anyone would care about my letter’, but people did I do,” she says. “And this is just so diverse and just the human experience, love, love loss. Mental health is one topic that’s really popular. And kind of cool to see that back in the 70s. That was talked about, even with today and the mental health stigma.”

The Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts are funding this project. The first podcast in this series will go on www.dearcasey.org in late August.

(By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)