FM (1978)

Michael Brandon (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) stars as Jeff Dugan, the ultra-cool program director at Q-SKY Radio, LA’s number one rock station. Never mind the fact that the station has the frequency 71.1, which is impossible in the US as the FCC frequency range goes from 87.8 to 108.0. Also, in the US, there are no radio stations with “Q” prefixes: East of the Mississippi, all stations begin with “W,” while stations west of the Mississippi start “K.” There’s only one major exception — KDKA in Pittsburgh. In Canada, stations use “C,” while “X” is utilized for stations in Mexico.

Q-SKY has all manner of crazy on-air personalities, like Mother, who sounds a lot like Alison Steele, the Nightbird, who also inspired Stevie in The Fog (others have said she’s based on Mary “The Burner” Turner from KMET). She’s played by Eileen Brennan from The Last Picture Show. There’s also The Prince of Darkness (Cleavon Little, who beyond Blazing Saddles, Surf II and Once Bitten also played the DJ Super Soul in the movie that inspired Tarantino’s Death ProofVanishing Point), low rated Doc Holliday (former Detroit Lion Alex Karras), his replacement Laura Coe (Cassie Yates, The Evil) and Eric Swan (Martin Mull!) who is obsessed with being a success in show business and with women. 

Despite Jeff getting the station to number one in the number two market in the country, his corporate bosses only want him to sell more advertising time. Then, sales manager Regis Lamar gets him a deal to advertise for the Army, he refuses. His bosses order him to run the ads so he quits. The remaining DJs protest by locking themselves in and even physically battling the police.

Everything works out — the station’s owner (Norman Lloyd, Jaws of Satan and Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes) is inspired by the DJs and fires the sales staff. Meanwhile, dumped by his true love and fired by his manager, Eric Swan has a mental breakdown while on the air.

Director John A. Alonzo, then noted as a cinematographer on Vanishing Point, Chinatown, Black Sunday and — after this film — Scarface, made his directorial debut with FM.

Screenwriter Ezra Sacks worked at Los Angeles’ fabled FM station KMET in the early 70’s when AOR — Album Oriented Rock — was in its infancy and being created by KMET program director Mike Herrington. The Army commercial incident depicted by Sacks in the film is based on an actual on-air incident in which KMET’s top-rated nighttime DJ, Jim Ladd (On the Air Live with Captain Midnight) ran an anti-army commentary on the air after running an army spot. The incident is chronicled in Ladd’s autobiography, Radio Waves: Life and Evolution on the FM Dial.

The head of MCA Irving Azoff participated in the making of the film as executive producer, but he disowned it before release and asked that his name be removed from the credits, as he felt that the film was “not an authentic representation of the music business” and that the studio didn’t give him creative control over the film, particularly when it came to the music. Then again, nearly every band in this movie was on MCA. You know — a movie all about rock and roll and rebellion with Jimmy Buffett in it. A negative soundtrack review by Rolling Stone magazine pointed out the music was heavily biased towards “commercial” musicians who Irving Azoff managed — in conflict with the so-called rebellious, progressive-underground rock format practiced by the very stations on which FM’s faux-station was based.

Another funny point of contention is that AM stations made their own edit of the movie’s theme song, Steely Dan’s “FM (No Static at All),” by clumsily interjecting the letter A in the title from the song “Aja” so that the song became “AM” on their channels.

Finally, while some claim that the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati was based on FM — an easy mistake, with so many characters seeming so similar (WKRP’s “Venus Flytrap” vs. FM’s “Prince of Darkness” in particular) — WKRP series creator Hugh Wilson has claimed that the sitcom was already in development and I’ve also read that a pilot had already been shot. Seeing as how the show debuted in September and this movie came out in April, that was a real worry. But by the time the show aired on CBS, many had forgotten this movie.

For years, this has been a difficult release. The soundtrack gave the film issues when it was released, with multiple versions being released due to the lack of clearing music rights. In fact, this movie was originally on our list of movies that have never been on released on DVD until Arrow made the announcement that they were releasing it.

The film includes “acting” appearances by Tom Petty and REO Speedwagon, along with live performances by Linda Ronstadt and Jimmy Buffett (who recite a few lines of dialog in the process); Steely Dan performs the title theme, which became a real-life radio hit. The Eagles, James Taylor, Bob Seger, Dan Fogelberg, Billy Joel, and Queen were also featured on the Platinum-plus soundtrack album. While the soundtrack became more popular than the actual film it promoted and there was a need to repress copies, it was stymied by clearance rights; it was remedied by having a group of session musicians — Studio 78 — cut an all-covers version for bargain label, Pickwick.

In addition to a high definition 1080p presentation of the film — transferred from original film elements — this blu ray also includes new interviews with the movie’s star Michael Brandon, its writer Ezra Stacks and a video appreciation of the era of FM radio and the soundtrack of the film by Glenn Kenny.

You can get FM from Arrow Video or directly from MVD.

Thanks to R.D Francis for his help with this article, as FM is one of his favorite films.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Arrow Video, but that has no impact on our review.

1 thought on “FM (1978)”

  1. Yep! If only stations were still this way. Now, it’s just a two computer screens–one for the music and the commericals; one for production. And the “personalities” don’t even live in the same town you hear them on.

    No albums to throw at cops . . . no broken cart decks to set up a scene . . . no more overnight shifts to cultivate the careers of a “Prince of Darkness” . . . talk about the makings of a boring movie.

    Like

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