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Thomas  Emerson Rounds III

Obituary for Thomas Emerson Rounds III

June 6, 1936 - June 1, 2014
Los Angeles, California | Age 77


Thomas Emerson "Tom" Rounds III
June 6, 1936-June 1, 2014
Tom Rounds, radio broadcasting innovator and producer of the iconic and ubiquitous original hit countdown show, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, died Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Los Angeles at age 77 from complications related to a minor surgical procedure. A pioneer of radio syndication, rock festivals, and music videos, Rounds was founder and Chief Executive Officer of Burbank-based Radio Express, Inc., the leading supplier of entertainment programming to radio stations outside the U.S., providing programming to over 5,000 radio stations in more than 130 countries throughout the world.
Rounds was born on June 6, 1936, in Stamford, CT, to Thomas Emerson Rounds, Jr. and Marjorie Coddington Land Rounds. His legendary broadcasting career began in the late 1950's, when he managed the Amherst College radio station. After graduating Amherst with degrees in English and Music, Rounds went to work as a newsman at WINS-AM in New York City. He then moved to Honolulu as afternoon on-air personality and program director for KPOI. In 1964, Rounds joined with Honolulu entertainment entrepreneur, Tom Moffatt, and Ron Jacobs to form Arena Associates. This company was responsible for bringing mainland music acts to the newly built Blaisdell Center and produced several concerts.

In 1966, Rounds became program director of KFRC in San Francisco, which dominated the market for 14 years. While at KFRC, Rounds began promoting large multi-act concerts to benefit charities 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, CA, 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 in 1967, it was featured on the front cover of the first issue 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, The Monkees, and The Animals, working with many record companies to produce the early videos. The company also included Ron Jacobs, and with him, Rounds continued to be involved with the promotion of large-scale music events in markets associated with Bill Drake.

The most prominent of the events produced by Rounds and Arena Associates was the Miami Pop II Festival, held in December 1968. The event led by Rounds and Jacobs was hailed 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.

In 1969, Rounds co-founded Watermark, Inc., a radio production and syndication company that created a variety of music programs distributed to stations throughout North America. In 1970 with Casey Kasem and Don Bustany, he headed the team that launched and marketed the first hit music countdown show, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. By the '80's, the program reached audiences at over 500 radio stations in the U.S.

After ABC acquired Watermark in 1982, Rounds started Burbank-based Radio Express, Inc. 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 1990's, Radio Express was producing most of its own product. The company was the first to introduce barter syndication to the international radio world.
Over the years, Rounds produced scores of music festivals and concerts to raise funds for charitable causes, and was the first to distribute live global concerts for charity to radio stations across 150+ countries around the world-- including 2005's Live 8, a string of 10 benefit concerts for global poverty that featured over 1000 musicians from across the globe, and Live Earth, in 2007.

Rounds was a modern-day Renaissance man. He loved sailing, and was an avid gardener and an accomplished pianist. He and his wife, Barbara, traveled numerous times to over 100 countries. He lived in Los Angeles for 45 years.

Tom is survived by Barbara, his loving wife and business partner of 49 years; daughter, Michelle Rounds Rajotte and husband, Mark; son, Thomas Emerson Rounds IV; stepdaughter, Debbie De La Cueva Dabrowski and husband Stephen; and four grandchildren, Eli, Margaux, Lucy and Nicco.

A memorial service will be held in Los Angeles at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills on Sunday, June 8, at 5:00 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to City of Hope Cancer Center (

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