It goes without saying that I like everything about radio, even movies that feature radio stations.
The first movie I watched about radio must have been FM (pretty sure I left the cinema disappointed). Then came Good Morning Vietnam…
So, I thought it a good idea to pull together my Top 5 radio-based movies and give each one a rating…
In no particular order then, here they are.
Released in 1978 FM is about fictional Los Angeles station Q-Sky and the battle between the station’s DJs and the suits who want more commercials and less music (sound familiar?).
We see a variety of cliche DJs who each have their personal problems and the pressure the station manager – played by Michael Brandon – faces as he has to pick a side; the suits or his DJs (and their loyal listeners).
Tension between the on-air talent and the management comes to a head when the DJs lock themselves in the station – locking management out. A police raid follows. All up, the climax is a bit like what really happened at New York station WBAI (see below).
The plot is paper thin, the film isn’t based in the reality of any station I know, and it is unbelievable in parts.
My rating: 4/10
Good Morning Vietnam
And it’s back to 1965 we go as we join DJ Adrian Cronauer on American Forces Radio during the Vietnam Conflict.
It’s a wild ride as Adrian takes on the army to play rock’n’roll and say what he likes; revealing bit of classified information to listeners along the way.
His DJ style is worlds away from what the other presenters are doing; they read dull messages and play classical music.
Listeners love Cronauer; he boosts morale, draws a huge following among the troops, and ends up being too popular for his own good.
Great music, Williams’ ad-lib performance is star quality and while dark in places, Good Morning Vietnam, released in 1987, is a good film on many levels.
Interestingly, the real life Cronauer says he was never as funny as actor Robin Williams makes him out to be in the film.
My rating: 7/10
Radio host Bob Fass is probably unknown to most people living outside New York. But in the 60s he turned radio on its head – opening up the airways to listeners and musicians like no other radio host before him.
WBAI is a listener supported station serving every demographic. In the documentary we learn that Bob was an actor who convinced the station’s management to let him do a show from midnight – when the station would normally shut down for the day.
His show tapped into a community of insomniacs and night workers who had something to say. He got a friend to hook up the phone to the broadcast desk and let the conversations and show find its own path every night. Bob Fass became an institution.
The documentary covers the anti-war movement, the emerging hippy culture, how Bob single-handedly changed radio, and much more.
However, it all came tumbling down when new management started interfering with the station’s schedule. Conflict came to a head when Bob and his supporters locked the management out of the station.
The station was off the air for weeks while issues were resolved. However, Bob paid a high price for taking a stand.
My rating: 8/10
Want to find out why your local station closed or why it is broadcasting the same stuff as a station 1000s of miles away?
This documentary by Sue Wilson explains all; how corporates spent so much money on acquiring the competition they had to sack the staff to make loan payments.
The documentary shows how Clear Channel neglected its emergency system and following a train derailment – causing the release of deadly gas – people died. Had the station had local DJs – instead of relaying programmes – people (including the police) in would have been warned to stay indoors.
Fox News gets a court ruling that news does not have to be true. And conservative talk show hosts set the agenda – with some listeners unable to distinguish between talk radio (entertainment) and news.
Wilson makes the point that in the US the airwaves belong to the people – not the corporations. She is campaigning to take the airwaves back.
My rating 7/10
The internet didn’t kill radio, commercial radio is being killed from the inside. When DJs are told to shut up and play the playlist, it ends an age-old symbiotic relationship between radio and the community.
Corporate FM uncovers the high finance shell-game that stole control of radio from communities across America. The film also reveals how radio may become local again.
While covering some of the same ground as Broadcast Blues; this is well worth watching as an unrelated companion film.
My rating: 7/10
Released in 1988, Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio was 20 years ahead of its time. The film follows polarizing talk show host Barry Champlain, a shop assistant with a big mouth and an opinion about everything.
He gets his big break when playing second fiddle to a daytime lightweight talk show host and ends up with his own late night phone-in show on a Dallas, Texas, station.
We join Barry as he learns his show is to be broadcast across the US network and as success is within sight, he loses his grip. He calls on his ex-wife to steady him as he prepares to transition from local talk show host to national radio personality.
Very well made, tense, funny, and terrifying.
My rating: 9/10
The Boat That Rocked. The history of UK pirate radio in the 60s featuring gear in the studios that wasn’t available until the 70s (just saying). Colourful and fun with great music.
My rating: 5/10
American Graffiti. Wolfman Jack provides the backdrop to this coming-of-age movie – one night in the lives of a group of teenagers in 1962.
My rating: 9/10