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Pirate Radio: why is the best radio always in the movies?

Watching Richard Curtis’ new movie Pirate Radio this evening, I was struck by how little one actually has to do to make a crowd pleasing film out of this subject. There’s really not that much to the flick. It’s the historically grounded story of a pop music pirate station broadcasting to the British Isles from international waters in the 1960s. One can’t say there’s a plot. What there is is provided by the weakest character in the movie, a Comstockian British official obsessed with destroying the operation, played by Kennneth Branagh, who lays the buffoon routine on a little too thick.

And yet Pirate Radio is charming. Look for wonderful performances by Bill Nighy, who portrays the operations’ droll general manager, Nick Frost as the station’s corpulent hedonist, and, of course, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the head deejay in charge. Mostly what they do is hang out, fool around, pretend to quarrel, try to get laid, and play a lot of great tunes to their adoring English audience. January Jones of Mad Men is in the film, by the way, the center of an absurdist wedding episode.

All radio lovers should see this movie, if only for the atmospherics and the fairly spectacular ending (which, of course, I won’t give away). Why is it so easy to get great radio in celluloid, and so hard to find it in real life?

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