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Ten essential radio movies for the holidays

Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Pirate Radio"

I love movies about radio. Here are some classics to give to your friends for the holidays.

Pirate Radio (2009). The fictionalized story of Radio Caroline, “the boat that rocked” the British Isles from offshore in the 1960s. Fabulous performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy. My favorite Nighy line from the film: “Carl? – Yes. My favourite godson. – Have we met before? – I don’t think so. No. There was a lost decade, so I always have to check.”

Pump Up the Volume. The 1999 film about a teenage unlicensed operator (Christian Slater) who pretty much takes over Arizona with his wild and crazy monologues.

Do the Right Thing (1989). Spike Lee’s classic about a black Brooklyn neighborhood facing gentrification. Radio plays a crucial role in this very relevant movie, with stellar performances by Samuel L. Jackson as community radio deejay “Mr. Senor Love Daddy” and Bill Nunn as “Radio Raheem.”

The Fisher King (1991). Jeff Bridges plays a down on his luck talk radio host who rescues himself by helping a homeless man (Robin Williams).

Good Morning Vietnam (1987). Robin William plays an outrageous host for US Armed Services Radio: “Hello, campers,” he declares. “Remember, Monday is malaria day. That’s right. Time to take that big orange pill and get ready for the Ho Chi Minh two-step.”

Talk Radio (1988). Based on “Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg,” a talk radio host discovers that his nasty, abrasive tone is very contagious.

Born in Flames (1983). Radio plays a crucial role in this lively futuristic movie about two feminist insurgencies who present their grievances on pirate radio stations.

Private Parts (1997). The life and works of that great, great man: Howard Stern.

Dead Air (2009). Talk radio host meets The Zombies.

Talk to Me (2007). The career of legendary Washington, D.C. radio host Ralph Waldo (“Petey”) Greene, whose on air summary of Berry Gordy is worth the price of admission: “Mr. Gordy’s a very important man, and he’s done a great deal. And I love the way he takes the little brothers and sisters, broke-down runaways, the downtrodden from the projects, and he gets them off the streets. Then he puts a few dollars in their pockets, teaches them how to talk and how to walk, then sends them right back out there to bring him a whole lot of money. So I’m sorry if in any way I made him out to be a pimp.”

I’m sure I’ve left lots of movies out. Please put your faves in the comments section.

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9 Responses to Ten essential radio movies for the holidays

  1. Kate Gowen December 15, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    “Alan Partridge.”

  2. Jerry Drawhorn December 15, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    A couple more…

    “FM” about a late 70’s commercial rock station that is compelled to sell out the music to the corporate “man”. (Cleavon Little, Alex Karras and Martin Mull).

    “Vanishing Point” – ex Vietnam Vet is aided in his avoidance of the Highway Patrol in his “death ride” across the US by a blind, black soul DJ (Cleavon Little).

  3. jonthebru December 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    “Radio Days”, a Woody Allen movie set in the days of live radio and radio stars.

    Though its not totally about radio, “Brother Where Art Thou” with its old timey radio station and some moments in a recording session of that time.

    And of course “American Graffiti” with a fantastic scene with Wolf Man Jack! That scene was filmed in the old studios of KRE in Oakland where the California Historical Radio Society was located until earlier this year.

  4. Paul Riismandel December 15, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    One more pirate radio movie: “On the Air Live With Captain Midnight.”

    I saw this 70s b-movie as a kid on USA’s Night Flight, and the image of the teenage pirate protagonist broadcasting from his van, with an upside-down RCA mic hung in front of his face was forever burned into my psyche. The movie was so obscure that for years after I wondered if I had imagined it.

    Then about seven years ago I tracked it down on DVD. As one might imagine it didn’t quite live up to the memory. But a great time capsule, nevertheless.

  5. Feliks Banel December 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    Great list and I love all things RADIO SURVIVOR! I did some riffing on the radio movie topic via I STILL LOVE RADIO a few years back–and most of the films that I admit having not seen then are still on my unseen list for some reason . . .

  6. Jerry Drawhorn December 23, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    It’s interesting that so few movies about radio appear to have been made when there wasn’t Television. I could only find “The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936) which was about 1930’s radio stars, who come to the assistance of a failing radio station which needs to put on a huge ratings winner to have any chance of avoiding closure. Of course, one of the big radio events of the 1930’s was Orson Welles adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the World’s”. “War of the Worlds”was made into a film produced by George Pal in 1953. Steven Spielberg directed a remake in 2005 starring Tom Cruise.

    “Bad Channels”(1992) Starring: Robert Factor, Martha Quinn, Aaron LustigPlot: An alien has landed in a small town and decides to take over the local radio station

    “Power 98” (1996) Radio sex-talk personality Karlin Pickett (Eric Roberts) is followed by series of murders of lovers and acquaintances that have followed him from Phoenix to his new gig in Los Angeles.

    “Play Misty For Me”(1971) Clint Eastwood is a disc-jockey for station KRML, a jazz-formatted station in Carmel, California. He has what he views as a casual affair with one of his fans who stalks and almost kills him.

    “Morgan’s Summit” Bruce Willis’ on-air character is a “feel-good” talk radio host who experiences a brutual crime and goes on a vendetta.

    • Jerry Drawhorn December 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      One more early one. “Reveille With Beverly” (1942) featuring Ann Miller (originally Johnnie Lucille Collier) who becomes a morning DJ on KFIL and shakes up the classical format with a lot of boogie-woogie, like “Cow Cow Boogie” (written by Benny Carter and with lots of race and marijuana references and later a big Harlem Hit Parade hit for Ella Fitzgerald), and hipster flipster jive. She becomes big with the boys at the nearby army base, but not with the un-hip sponsors, who she’s canned, and ends up working in a local record store.

      A GI who is the heir to a candy fortune comes to her rescue and she sets up a live broadcast benefit for the troops with all sorts of singers (Frank Sinatra, Mills Bothers [“Sweet Lucy Brown”; “Ceilito Linda”], Ella Mae Morse “Cow Cow Boogie”) comedians (Morton Downey), big band music acts (Duke Ellington [“Take the A Train”], Count Basie [“One O’ Clock Jump”], Bob Crosby) just on the eve of their deployment. Miller gets to show off her amazing tap-dancing and singing skills in a patriotic number.

      It was based loosely on the real “Reveille with Beverley” radio show hosted by Ruth Jean May.

      Lots of fun footage of Miller spinning records, announcing and shilling records in the store, but the most important aspect was the role Hollywood played in introducing black artists and music to a broader American public, though none of the troops in the segregated unit are black.

  7. Robynn December 26, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    What about Grosse Pointe Blank. Just watched it over the Thanksgiving holiday and it’s a romcom where the leading lady is a DJ.

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