Tom Rounds, Founder and CEO of Radio Express, and producer of the original hit countdown show, American Top 40 With Casey Kasem, passed away in Los Angeles 6/1 at 77. His wife and business partner of 49 years, Barbara Rounds, was at his bedside when he passed away. His 78th birthday would have been this Friday, 6/6. He died from complications related to a minor surgical procedure.
Rounds is also survived by his daughter, Michelle; son, Tommy; stepdaughter, Debbie; and four grandchildren: Eli, Margaux, Lucy and Nicco.
Radio Express, Inc., is the world’s leading supplier of entertainment programming to radio outside the U.S. Rounds founded the largest American syndicator, Watermark, in the late ’60s. 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 over 500 radio stations in the United States by the ‘80’s. After ABC acquired Watermark in 1982, Rounds started Radio Express in 1985 with ABC as its first program supplier. In 1990, Rounds announced the introduction of 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. By the late 1990s, Radio Express was producing most of its own product.
Together with its multi-lingual team of radio and marketing professionals, Radio Express has partnered with global brands including Coca-Cola, Ford, McDonald’s, Gillette, Kodak, KFC, Pepsi and Heineken to bring branded hit radio shows to local markets in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. 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 ‘50’s. He started his professional radio career at WINS-AM New York, and then moved to KPOI in Honolulu, Hawaii, 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 gain publicity for the station and the bands it featured. 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, California, to support the Hunters Point Child Care Center. The festival featured Jefferson Airplane, The 5th Dimension, The Doors and many other acts, drawing nearly 60,000 attendees. The Fantasy Fair produced by Rounds is considered the first Rock festival in history, preceding the Monterey Pop Festival by one week. When Rounds left KFRC San Francisco for Los Angeles, it was featured on the cover of Issue 1, Volume 1 of Rolling Stone magazine.
Rounds then joined Amherst classmate Peter Gardiner in a new Los Angeles-based video production company, Charlatan Productions. The company is acknowledged as being among the first to focus exclusively on the use of cinematography and music together in the form that is now ubiquitous among major music acts, the music video. Rounds led the company to successfully produce several dozen “artist-promoting films” for acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, and The Animals, working with many record companies to produce the early videos.
Rounds continued to be involved with the promotion of large-scale music events in markets associated with Bill Drake. In 1964, Rounds joined with another Honolulu entertainment entrepreneur, Tom Moffat, and Ron Jacobs to form Arena Associates. This company was responsible for bringing 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. The event led by Rounds and Jacobs was hailed two weeks later in the New York Times as “a resounding success in both organization and programming, making it the first significant major pop festival held on the East Coast”. New York Times reviewer Ellen Sander noted that the Miami festival truly represented the full spectrum of popular music acts, rather than relying on the presence of a few headlining acts to generate revenue.
Jessica d’Agostin, Vice President of Sales for Radio Express, Inc., 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.”
A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills on Sunday, June 8, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to City of Hope Cancer Center (www.cityofhope.org).