Review – movies that feature radio stations

Making a list of my favourite movies was becoming quite a challenge one wet Sunday afternoon, so I abandoned that idea and settled on listing my favourite movies about radio.

The first movie I watched that featured a radio station must have been FM (pretty sure I left the cinema disappointed). It’s a bit like when a journalist watches a movie about a newspaper, life in a newsroom is rarely as exciting as Hollywood makes it out to be.

So here is my list of radio-themed movies (with a few notables at the end). What’s your favourite?


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 – and the 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 on the reality of any station I know, and it is unbelievable in parts. A nice selection of near non-stop soft rock and pop pulls the movie together.

My rating: 3/10

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 Unnameable

Radio host Bob Fass is probably unknown to most people living outside New York. But in the 60s he turned radio on its head at WBAI – 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 – the graveyard shift – 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 studio’s phone to the broadcast desk and let the conversations and show find its own path every night. Bob Fass became an institution.

The Radio Unnameable documentary covers the anti-war movement, the emerging hippy culture, how Bob single-handedly changed radio, gave emerging musicians of the day air time, and much more.

However, it all came crashing down when new management changed 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.

More here

My rating: 8/10

Broadcast Blues

Want to find out why your local station closed or why it is broadcasting the same stuff as a station thousands of miles away?

This documentary by Sue Wilson explains all; such as corporate broadcasters spending so much money acquiring the competition that they had to sack the staff in those stations and use salary money for loan repayments.

The documentary shows how Clear Channel neglected its emergency broadcast 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 local police) would have been warned to stay indoors.

We learn that Fox News won a court ruling that news does not have to be true. And that conservative talk show hosts set the agenda – with some listeners unable to distinguish between talk radio (entertainment) and news reports.

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

Corporate FM

The internet didn’t kill radio, commercial radio is being killed from the inside. When DJs are told to shut up and stick to 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

Talk Radio

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 fictional Dallas station.

We join Barry as he learns his show is to be syndicated 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 celebrity to national radio personality.

Very well made, tense, funny, realistic, and terrifying.

My rating: 9/10

Special mentions

The Boat That Rocked

The story 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. Where were you in ’62?

My rating: 9/10

Pump Up The Volume 

Christian Slater provides a raw and witty celebration of free speech that will make you laugh, make you cheer, and make you think. Slater says this is the film he is most proud of.

My rating:7/10