Tom Rounds, Rock Festival and Radio Pioneer, Dead at 77

Co-creator of 'American Top 40' and first U.S. rock festival influenced generations of music fans

June 3, 2014 8:30 AM ET
Tom Rounds
Tom Rounds
Courtesy of Radio Express, INC

Tom Rounds, the radio and promotion pioneer who staged the first U.S. rock festival and co-created the long-running American Top 40 radio show with Casey Kasem, died at 77 from complications related to minor surgery.

While not a household name, Rounds' achievements and initiatives influenced generations of music lovers to this day. In 1967, Rounds, disheartened at seeing security get increasingly confrontational with concertgoers at indoor venues, conceived the Fantasy Fair & Magic Mountain Festival, a precursor to Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock that now stands as the first U.S. rock festival.

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"I watched beefy security guys throwing teeny boppers over the barricades, which was awful and said, 'We really need to stop doing this and go outside and do something that won’t be armed warfare," Rounds told Rolling Stone last month. "I didn't want there to be a barrier between the audience and the performers." 

The festival attracted tens of thousands of people to the then-bourgeoning counterculture scene in San Francisco and featured sets by the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds and Steve Miller Blues Band, among others. Rounds would go on to produce numerous music festivals, most notably 1968's Miami Pop II Festival featuring Marvin Gaye, the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac.

When Rounds quit KFRC in 1967 to become the director of L.A. film production company Charlatan Productions, his resignation was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone's first issue

In 1970, Rounds co-created American Top 40, a weekly show collating the top 40 songs on Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart that began on seven radio stations and became the first national countdown show. Kasem hosted the pop show from its inception until 1988 and 1998 until his retirement in 2003. Ryan Seacrest has hosted the show since 2004.

Prior to co-founding the show, Rounds had stints at WINS New York and as a personality and program director on Honolulu's KPOI. It was in Hawaii where Rounds began his concert promotion career as well, forming Arena Associates and bringing bands to Hawaii before or after their San Francisco shows.

In 1985, Rounds formed Radio Express, a network of over 5,000 radio stations worldwide that handled production and syndication of more than 40 shows, most notably American Top 40 With Ryan Seacrest. He remained the company's CEO until his death on Sunday. 

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