Exploring: Radio Stations on Film

Although the American swing, jazz, big band, and country musicians of the twenties, thirties and forties starred or performed in comedic, suspense and dramatic films with musical plot lines set in nightclubs and radio stations — it was the year 1955 that set the stage: 1955 is the year that birthed rock ’n’ roll films.  The origins of those reels of musical celluloid trace back to Blackboard Jungle — the first film to feature rock ’n’ roll on the soundtrack, and the first film to make the correlation of juvenile delinquency as a byproduct of rock music.

The song featured in Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and the Comets, holds the distinction as the first “rock song” featured in a Hollywood movie. When the song rose to #1 on the charts, it also became the inspiration for the first film to be scripted around a rock song: 1956s Rock Around the Clock; its success, in turn, spawned a quickly assembled sequel in Don’t Knock the Rock, released that same year.

Another influential film was James Dean’s second of his three films: Rebel Without a Cause. Released the same year as Blackboard Jungle, the film served as the blueprint for numerous rock ’n’ roll-based flicks throughout the years. In fact, it’s alleged Elvis Presley was in consideration for the Dean role; it was to serve as Elvis’s big-screen debut. Elvis, the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll”: the first musician to successfully combine county music and the blues of the American Southeast into a new form of music: Rock ’n’ Roll.

Elvis Presley’s first starring role in 1956’s Love Me Tender borrowed the marketing scheme of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock: use the artist as the “star” and utilize their hit song as the title of a movie. And with that, any rock band with a hit song found themselves appearing in, or having films crafted around their group and songs. Just ask the members of Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and, of course, the Beatles.

However, the crafting of films around successful musicians — or creating dancing-and-swimming sing-a-long musicals starring Fred Astaire or Esther Williams — wasn’t born in 1955. The first musician on “sound” film was Al Jolson, who starred in 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length, nationally distributed motion picture with talking sequences, music and sound effects. Movie goers could see and hear Al Jolson perform “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye),” “Blue Skies,” and “My Mammy.”

Country-western star Cindy Walker carved a prolific career not only in music, but in film as well. Cindy Walker holds the distinction of charting Top Ten hits in every decade — from the forties through the eighties. Cindy sold her first song, “Lone Star Trail,” to Bing Crosby in 1940, which lead to her own record deal with Decca Records. She soon found her songs recorded not only by Bing Crosby, but by Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers, and Elvis Presley. Her best known song, “You Don’t Know Me,” charted three times: first in 1956 for Eddie Arnold; in 1962 for Ray Charles, and again in 1981 for Mickey Gilley. Cindy’s music continues to exist into the 21st century, with the song’s most recent appearance in the Jodie Foster radio-set film, The Brave One.

As result of her writing 39 songs for producer Bob Willis’s western movies of the early-forties, Cindy transitioned into an acting career with the western musicals Ride Tenderfoot, Ride and Frontier Vengeance in 1940, 1942’s Bearcat Mountain Girl, and 1944’s Ti-Yi-Yippe-Aye, then made her final appearance in 1953’s Oil Town, U.S.A. Even one of the bands starring with Cindy in Oil Town, U.S.A, country-western legends Sons of the Pioneers, carved out a film career of their own — long before Billy Haley arrived in 1955 — beginning with 1935’s Slightly Static, up through 1951’s Fighting Coast Guard.

Another film that utilized chart-topping musicians and music as a plot device — long prior to the rock-movie craze initiated with Rock Around the Clock — was the 1943 comedy Reveille with Beverly. The film provides an early peek into the screen career of Frank Sinatra — before his rising to the Hollywood A-List with his star-making turn in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, which served as his acting debut.

In speaking of Frank Sinatra: Billy Haley and Elvis Presley would not have made the transition to film, and Elvis would not have had an acting career, if not for Mr. Sinatra blazing the trail. Mr. Sinatra first appeared on the silver screen as a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra/Band in 1941’s Las Vegas Nights and 1942’s Ship Ahoy. After earning his first screen credit as a solo artist with a music performance in Reveille with Beverly, he moved onto his now classic roles in From Here to Eternity, Von Ryan’s Express, and Ocean’s Eleven.

An interesting point on Reveille with Beverly: the setting inside a radio station also served as the plotline utilized in numerous, early rock ’n’ roll films. The film stars noted dancer and singer Ann Miller (the Madonna/Britney Spears of the day) as disc jockey “Beverly Ross,” who cons her way into a gig at a military radio station charged with entertaining the troops. While there, she organizes a big band/swing show with performances by some of radio’s biggest stars of the day: Frank Sinatra, Freddy Slack and his Orchestra, Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers, and Count Basie.

America’s fascination with the radio not only provided Hollywood with a plot device for films; the “voices” of the radio also transitioned to the silver screen. Prior to the radio careers of disc jockey Alan Freed in the fifties, Wolfman Jack (The Midnight Hour) and Casey Kasem (The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant) in the sixties, and Rick Dees (The Gladiator) in the seventies transitioning from behind the microphone to the front of the camera, Hollywood made an actor out of legendary Los Angeles radio personality Fred Crane.

Best known for his cameo appearance as one of Scarlett O’Hara’s beaus in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind, it is Fred Crane’s voice that opens the film with the line: “What do we care if we were expelled from college, Scarlett? The war is going to start any day now.”

Crane began his radio broadcasting career as the staff announcer for Jack Benny’s radio program on the NBC Radio Network. In 1946, Crane began his prolific radio career in Southern California on 1330 AM KFAC Classical Radio. He remained with the station, placing frequently in the Top Five for drive-time ratings, until the station’s demise in 1988. During his 40-plus years on KFAC, he segued into a television acting career with the series Hawaiian Eye, The Lawman, Lost in Space, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6, The Twilight Zone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and was a regular on General Hospital in the seventies. His film roles include 1949’s The Gay Amigo, and a co-starring role as the henchman “Duke” in the theatrical version of the hit TV Western, The Cisco Kid.

As with the films of the fifties, the musically-plotted films dating to the thirties and forties served as showcases for the current music stars of the day. These progenitors to the rock ’n’ roll films of the fifties also padded their short running times with concert clips and/or on-screen performances, due to the film’s lack of a real script or plot.

Film was the perfect medium; a marketing tool in a world not yet exposed to today’s multi-channel universe of cable television and Internet-based marketing. Television was not a necessity of the masses; it was a luxury not afforded to every household in America. The same goes for the attendance of music concerts. The most cost-effective and affordable entertainment to the masses was the local movie house or drive-in theater (and that portable radio perched on the top of your grandmother’s refrigerator or that transistor radio in your pocket); both served as the only way many Americans could see their favorite music stars of the radio perform — in person.

There’s a LOT of radio station-based films and this list of recent B&S About Movies reviews only scratches the surface.

Airheads (1994)
Bad Channels (1992)
A Cry for Help (1975)
Dark Signal (2016)
Dead Air (1994)
Dead Air (2009)
Don’t Answer the Phone (1980)
FM (1978)
Incident at Channel Q (1986)
Karn Evil 9 (202?)
Loqueesha (2019)
The Lords of Salem (2013)
Martin (1977)
A Matter of Degrees (1990)
Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)
Melinda (1972)
Midnight FM (2010)
The Night Caller (1998)
Night Owl (1993)
Night Rhythms (1992)
Open House (1987)
Outside Ozona (1998)
Play Misty for Me (1971)
Power 98 (1996)
Radioland Murders (1994)
Radio Silence (2012)
Radio Silence (2019)
Redneck Miller (1976)
Shattered Illusions (1998)
Straight Talk (1992)
Times Square (1980)
Zoo Radio (1990)

If I had all the time in the world, I’d write up more detailed essays on more of the films from the industry that I love. So, here are a few quick ones.

Airheads (1994)

Dog Day Afternoon goes rock. Only this time, instead of a bank, it’s a radio station as three aspiring alt-metal heads (Brandon Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler) launch a desperate attempt to have their music aired on Los Angeles’ KPPX “Rebel Radio.” Michael McKean of the rock ‘n’ roll flicks This is Spinal Tap and Light Of Day is the station program director, Joe Mantegna (U.S TV’s Criminal Minds) is (excellent as) radio personality “Ian the Shark,” and Judd Nelson is the record executive. MTV’s Kurt Loder, Motorhead’s Lemmy, and Howard Stern’s Stuttering John Melendez (Stuttering John, the band, placed a song in the film) appear in cameos. White Zombie and The Galactic Cowboys (as the Sons of Thunder) perform; Anthrax and Primus appear on the soundtrack. Director Michael Lehmann returned with the radio station rom-com, The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

* Many thanks to Gregg Harrington over at the Neon Maniacs podcast for coming to the rescue and reviewing this awesome, grungy slice of ’90s nostalgia for B&S, as we just didn’t have time to give it a full review proper.

Eldorado (1995)

This Canadian grunge-drama follows a disc jockey who serves as the background for multiple storylines. Lloyd is a disc jockey for an alternative station that’s in love with a bartender at a local punk club, who’s involved with a liquor store clerk. The rest of the Gen X slackers: a rollerblading criminal with a wealthy friend who cares for the homeless, and a shrink with an uncooperative patient.

The Four Corners of Nowhere (1995)

In A Matter of Degrees, shenanigans at the campus radio station served as the backdrop for a group of misguided college students in Providence, Rhode Island. In Singles, the grunge rock scene of Seattle served as the backdrop. In The Four Corners of Nowhere the romantic comedy takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a college radio disc jockey uses the lives and relationships of his local coffee shop friends as fodder for his radio program. It’s the usual collection of aspiring musicians, law students and artists searching for the meaning of live.

On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979)

This less effective ode to radio piracy-by-van (so it also qualifies as a “vansploitation” flick; see Van Nuys Blvd.) appeared on The USA Network’s weekend Night Flight programming block in the early ‘80s. It stars Tracy Sebastian, aka Trey Loren, as the titled pirate who drives his pirate operation up and down Van Nuys Blvd., much to the chagrin of an F.C.C agent portrayed by John Ireland (Incubus). Jim Ladd of L.A.’s KMET radio also co-stars. One of Tracy’s earliest roles was in his parents’ ‘Gator Bait and he starred in Rocktober Blood.

Pump Up the Volume (1990)

A high school loaner, nicely played by Christian Slater (True Romance), leads a double life as “Hard Harry,” a sarcastic pirate disc jockey bunkered in his parent’s basement. He soon invites the wrath of the school’s administration as he begins to question the school’s operating methods. Those parents: they just don’t understand. He spins “Titanium Expose” by Sonic Youth and the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation,” along with Soundgarden, Peter Murphy, and Henry Rollins fronting the Bad Brains on “Kick out the Jams.” It’s all from the pen of Allan Moyle, who brought you Times Square (itself partially set in a radio station jocked by Tim “Dr. Frank-N-Furter” Curry) and Empire Records.

* Be sure to visit this excellent, definitive review of Pump Up the Volume over on the film blog from The Master Cylinder, a great site that also pays homage to the books, music and television of old.

Rude (1995)

A Canadian radio romp similar to Eldorado, only with the on air banter of a pirate radio disc jockey, Rude. He’s the plot-connective between the lives of several people living in Toronto’s tough inner city: an ex-drug dealing mural artist tries to reconnect with his family after being released from prison, an aspiring boxer destroys his career by participating in the assault of a gay man, and a woman faces the outcome of an abortion.

Times Square (1980)

While Tim Curry received top-billing in the initial ad campaign he’s barely in the film, shooting all of his scenes in two days—but what a great two days of shooting. His underground DJ Johnny LaGuardia takes advantage of two misanthropic (lesbian) runaways from the opposite sides of the tracks that are championed by the cultural malcontents New York’s 42nd Street. Give it up for the Sleeze Sisters!

* Many thanks to Jennifer Upton for picking up the slack and writing a full review proper for Times Square. Be sure to visit her blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi: Womanycom.

The Rest of the Best:

Alan Partridge (2013): When a media conglomerate takes over a small British radio station, a self-absorbed disc jockey (comedian Steve Coogan) becomes the reluctant hostage negotiator for the disc jockey he got fired.

Bad Channels (1992): A publicity-hungry shock jock battles an alien using the station’s signal to capture and shrink human females in this “sequel” to Full Moon’s Demonic Toys and Dollman. Actually, it ties into five Full Moon movies (I think), but who’s counting?

* Hey, wait a minute . . . my boss, Sam, reviewed this one already? Doh! There’s too many films on this site! And here’s another take courtesy of our good friend John Leavengood over at Movies, Film and Flix.

The Brave One (2007): Jodie Foster stars as a popular New York liberal radio talk jock who goes “Death Wish” over the murder of her fiancée.

Pirate Radio (2009): A group of rogue British DJs takes on the British establishment. Also known as The Boat that Rocked, it’s based on the famed ‘60s station Radio Caroline.

Private Parts (1997): Howard Stern’s New York Times best-selling biography becomes one of the most accurate—and funny—portrayals of radio on film.

Radio Days (1987): Woody Allen’s love-letter to listening to the radio of his youth.

Talk Radio (1988): Eric Bogosian shines as the acidic Dallas DJ Barry Champlain that’s based on the tragic 1984 assassination of radio host Alan Berg.

Talk to Me (2007): Don Cheadle (of the Iron Man and Avengers franchise) portrays real life ex-con Petey Green who went on to became a top-rated Washington, D.C disc jockey.

The Upside of Anger (2005): Kevin Costner is an alcoholic ex-ballplayer and sports radio talk jock involved with his widowed neighbor and her three daughters.

Is there a movie set in a radio station that you enjoyed? Let us know. Why not write a review for us. We’d love to post it.

* Banner by R.D Francis. Clash 45-rpm sleeve courtesy of Discogs.com and text courtesy of PicFont.com.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Incident at Channel Q (1986)

After posting our review of Charles Band’s Bad Channels for our “Radio Week” of reviews regarding films set inside radio stations (March 15 to 21), this Al Corley-starring and Storm Thorgerson-directed movie (well, long-form Escher’s “Magic Mirror” video that features videos within the video) popped into my head. Yeah, it takes place inside an UHF-TV station and not a radio station; it features a VJ and not a DJ. But my memories of Incident at Channel Q “peanut butter into my chocolate,” if you will, with Bad Channels courtesy of an old Books-A-Million location (or was it a Waldenbooks?) that carried used copies of VHS tapes in their cut-out bins.

Courtesy of Amazon

If you were a metal head in the early ‘80s, this movie holds fond memories for you. If you’re a younger lad and a new inductee to the world of ‘80s metal, courtesy of the hosts of SirusXM Satellite Radio’s Hair Nation, who’ve mentioned this slice of metal nostalgia on several occasions, you’re clamoring for a copy.

And I am clamoring for one ever since my copy became infected by the blue screen of death alongside my copy of The Dark Backward. Frack you, Starbuck.

If there’s ever an old VHS that needs an official DVD/streaming reissue, Incident at Channel Q is the movie. (Shameless plug: read our “10 Movies That Were Never Released to DVD” featurette.) Hell, we’d even settle for a forbidden world grey market impress at this point. The VHS and even rarer Laser Disc pop up on seller sites from time to time—if you want to donate a kidney for it. And how is it the IMDb page for Incident at Channel Q is a barren wasteland? There’s no photo stills? Not even an image of the VHS? It’s not even rated at Rotten Tomatoes? Not even a Discogs page for its soundtrack?

Yeah. You’re damn right it’s time to show this VHS gem the love. Load the tape. Let’s rock.

Courtesy of Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art at philamoca.org

As you look at the theatrical one-sheet, you notice the logo for AMC Theatres: the theatre chained backed the production and distributed it as an exclusive midnight movie—which was my first exposure to it. Later, I rented the RCA/Columbia Home Video copy from my corner video store. And I begged the horseshoe-haired, garlic-pepperoni halitosis guy running the joint to please sell me the one-sheet hanging in the store. Of course, he did not. (Insert “word” for lower abdominal appendage. Frack you, film nerd.)

“So, what’s a ‘Midnight Movie’?”

Well, before the advent of video stores and cable television in the ‘80s, the midnight movie was a ‘70s marketing gimmick for non-commercial films, mainly exploitation films and just about everything that made the dreaded “video nasties” list. (Shameless plug #2: check out our three part “Exploring: Video Nasties” featurette.)

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, the animated rock flick Heavy Metal, and Pink Floyd: The Wall broke as midnight movies.

For those of us too young to go to concerts, we got to see Led Zeppelin for the first time in The Song Remains the Same (1976); we became “Dead Heads” courtesy of The Grateful Dead Movie (1977). Our first AC/DC concert (distributed by Fred and Beverly Sebastian of Rocktober Blood fame; also a midnight movie, natch) was AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (1980). And how can we forget The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Shameless plug #3: read about Kim Milford, the original Rocky, and his rock flick Song of the Succubus.)

And since the nascent MTV video network wasn’t cleared for broadcast in all markets and all cable systems, the only way you could see rock videos—besides an errant, overnight video program on some low-wattage UHF-TV station—was in a movie theatre—some of which would run videos before their midnight movie features; in-between if it was a double feature.

“So, how did Incident in Channel Q come about?”

It’s the brainchild of the British graphic design company Hipgnosis founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. Do we really have to rattle off all of the top-selling album covers they’ve designed? Name a classic rock artist from the ‘60s to the ‘80s and, odds are, Hipgnosis designed the cover. (Def Leppard’s High ‘n Dry, with the image of a man diving into a swimming pool? That’s a rejected Pink Floyd Hipgnosis cover, for example.) When music videos became de rigueur, Hipgnosis incorporated Greenback Films—and the hits continued with Robert Plant’s “Big Log” and “Owner of Lonely Heart” for Yes, just to name a few.

If you’ve familiar with Christian Slater’s “Hard Harry” from the Pump Up the Volume (1990), then you’re up to speed on the antics of VJ Rick Van Ryan (Al Corley), a sarcastic agent provocateur at a struggling South Florida UHF-TV station, Q 23 (actually Fort Lauderdale’s WKID-51 doubling for the small-town of “Springfield”), which flipped to an all-rock video format. As with Karlan Pickett being hired over at KRZY “Power 98” in the frames of Power 98: the management hates the jock, but they “love the numbers,” so the Devil’s radio, uh, TV station, it is.

Of course those teenaged metal-scamps love Rick! But, uh-oh, the Christian conservatives lit the torches and sharpened the pitchforks demanding that “satanic program,” Heavy Metal Heaven, be taken off the air because, well, you know, there are souls to be saved. And like any Nancy Pelosi-fearing Christian who doesn’t “hate people,” but “prays for them,” the station’s God-fearing hosts and sponsors want Rick off the air. And to that end: a couple of right-wing bullies are hired to “wise up Rick” with a good ‘ol fashioned, Christian beat down, you know, for God and country. To hell with the Devil: even if it means grievous bodily harm, for the bible told them so.

That’s it, Rick’s had enough. So taking a cue from the staff of the “other station” with a Q—Los Angeles’ QKSY-FM 7-11 (FM), he barricades himself inside the TV station and rallies the metal head masses (well, okay, 12 people) in an Airheads-style revolt.

“Hey, what about the rock videos?”

Incident at Channel Q is pure homage (most critics miss that point) to those old Alan Freed DJ-starring films from the ‘50s—Rock Around the Clock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Mister Rock and Roll, Don’t Knock the Rock, and Go, Johnny, Go!—and to that end: it’s all about musical numbers and not the story. Sometimes, with those old rock flicks, the bands didn’t even appear “live” in the film as “actors”; the film would “cut away” to a TV performance (of an old band clip, natch) that the kids were watching. So Rick Van Ryan loading up videos is the equivalent of that narrative approach. Thus, while it would have been awesome to have had Iron Maiden showing up for a live parking lot concert to support Rick’s quest, we get video clips inserted into the action from:

Rush – “The Body Electric”
Lita Ford – “Gotta Let Go”
Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone”
Motorhead – “Iron Fist”
Scorpions – “Rock You Like a Hurricane”
Iron Maiden – “Aces High”
Motley Crue – “Looks that Kill”
Rainbow – “Can’t Happen Here”
Deep Purple – “Knockin’ at Your Back Door”
Kiss – “All Hell’s Breaking Loose”
Bon Jovi – “In and Out of Love”

Rear cover of laser disc courtesy of Hipgnosiscover.com

Hell, yeah! Incident at Channel Q is an ‘80s rock fan’s dream, with some of the greatest metal videos of all time featuring more than enough poofy hair, tight pants and studded leather, debauchery, depravity and post-apocalyptic imagery (shamless plug #4: check out our month-long homage to apoc films with our two-part Atomic Dustbin round up) to satiate our devil-influenced, MTV nostalgia.

None of the South Florida community actors cast in the film starred in anything else after making their feature film debuts on Incident at Channel Q. But proving everyone has to start somewhere: Camera and Lighting Department gaffer Greg Patterson embarked on a successful career in his field, working on Stallone’s The Specialist, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Harrison Ford’s most recent film, The Call of the Wild (2020). Now, that’s rock ‘n’ roll right there, Greg!

“So, like, who’s this Al dude?”

The Wichita, Kansas-born Al Corley got his start as a doorman at New York’s famed Studio 54 in the late ‘70s and appeared in a VH 1 Behind the Music special to recount his experiences. The contacts Corley made at the club transitioned him into an acting career; he was soon cast as the first Steven Carrington for 37 episodes during the 1981 to 1982 season of the popular ABC-TV prime time soap opera Dynasty. (And, in prime soap opera fashion: Corley was recast with a “new” actor via “plastic surgery after an oil rig explosion.” No, really.)

During those years, Corley was in a relationship with Carly Simon. So deep was the love that he appears on one of her album covers; that’s his back to the camera on the album artwork for 1981’s Torch (this Carly Simon blog regarding her album covers chronicles Corley’s involvement). You know Carly from the ‘70s song “Anticipation” and her James Bond theme song “The Spy Who Loved Me.” (Shamlesss plug #5: April is “James Bond Month” at B&S About Movies.)

But Corley was always a musician first and foremost (his Discogs page) and he, like American TV actors David Soul, Rick Springfield, Don Johnson, and David Hasselhoff before him, embarked on a successful European singing career across three albums: Square Rooms (1984), Riot of Color (1986) and Big Picture (1988). His debut album produced two European Top 20 singles/videos: “Square Rooms” and “Cold Dresses,” with the title cut single reaching number one in France. His other Top 100 Euro-hits were “After the Fall” from Riot of Color and “Land of the Giants” from Big Picture.

Those hits, in turn, netted Corley the lead in the 1989 West Germany-produced feature film Hard Days, Hard Nights (aka Beat Boys), a very loose, pseudo-Beatles bioflick about a Liverpudlian rock band’s quest for stardom in Hamburg. And rock on this: Corley’s co-star, in his acting debut, was Nick Moran: you know, Scabior from the Harry Potter franchise. Moving into directing, Corley fronted the MGM rom-com Bigger Than the Sky (2005; you can watch it for free on Vudu).

And that, my wee rockers, is the story behind Incident at Channel Q . . . and you can rock with this full video-soundtrack recreation I cooked up on You Tube.

What’s that? You need more punks and metal heads on film? Ack! Not more shameless plugs! Then check out our explorations “No False Metal Movies” and “Ten Bands Made Up For Movies.” And these excellent Letterboxd lists (see, we plug others) for Heavy Metal Movies and Punks on Film will also help you on your quest for ye metal.

Keep the horns high! That’s it for “Radio Week” kids. We’ll have an “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” round up with links to all of this week’s films this evening at 6 PM.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Radio Silence (2019)

A female radio psychologist taunted by a killer is familiar damsel-in-distress fodder for the Lifetime cable network, which also aired the similarly-plotted The Night Caller (1998), Requiem for Murder (1999), and A Lover’s Revenge (2005).

Dr. Jill Peterman (Canadian actress Georgina Haig, who’s very good), a Minneapolis, Minnesota (aka Toronto) “relationship therapist” who advocates a tough-love approach when counseling her listeners, walks away from the business when a listener, “Alexis,” takes her advice of “end this pathetic life” of allowing a man to cheat on her, literally—and she commits suicide on the air.

A year later, with WRMD 96.5 FM at the bottom of the ratings and ready to change to an automated dance format, her old General Manager persuades her to return to the air—with the guilt trip that she’ll be “saving everyone’s jobs.” As she settles back into her show, the mysterious calls from “Alexis” begin. Then her billboards around the city are vandalized with the words “How Do You Sleep?”—a message that’s repeated on the greeting cards enclosed with the deliveries of black roses.

Let slip the red herrings of noir.

Did Alexis actually kill herself? Is she the one leaving threats? Or is someone else behind them? The police never found a woman who committed suicide matching that name and they believe it was a prank—even a rating-grabbing station stunt that backfired. Could it be the win-at-all-costs station owner, her producer, or her promotion-driven production assistant? Is it the barista at the local coffee house who is Dr. Jill’s #1 fan? Is any of this real and is it all in Jill’s head?

The radio studio is a poorly done build that’s darkly lit to hide the “studios” shortcomings of its ubiquitous equipment-strewn business desks and—not another recording studio mixer being used as an audio board. Ugh. But at least there’s some digital touch screen audio equipment used. And the expositional industry jargon between the station owner and general manager about terrestrial radio competing with podcasting, ratings and format changes give the proceedings a sense of reality.

You can watch this Canadian TV movie—reimaged with the sensationalistic When Murder Calls for its U.S debut—for free on You Tube and You Tube.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Radio Silence (2012)

The question is not how far one will go to take a life, but how far one will go to save a life in this German-produced slasher-noir where Andrew Kevin Walker’s Seven (1995) and 8MM (1999) meets Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio (1988) and Allan Moyle’s Pump Up the Volume (1990).

The “Roc Doc,” an acidic and opinionated amateur psychologist, operates the basement-bound Radio Nighthawk as he spins ‘60s American soul records and expounds on the news of the day—and he makes the mistake mocking the police for failing to prevent the gruesome murders of the media-dubbed The Night Slitter.

“How difficult can it be to prevent The Night Slitter from breaking down his next victim into individual parts?” Roc Doc ponders.

“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is,” calls-in The Night Slitter. “After all, everyone has a body buried in the basement. The ego is not master in its own house, Roc Doc.”

And so begins the cat and mouse game with the Roc Doc forced to stay on the air—and admit to his own inner monster and skeletons—if he wants to save the life of The Night Slitter’s current victim: he’s audibly torturing the daughter of the grizzled police inspector on his trail.

Beginning as a Euro-festival acclaimed 20 minute short released in 2010, this 95-minute feature length version—alternately known as Der Tod hört mit (Death Listens) and On Air in other quarters—borrows its inspiration from the New French Extremity film movement spearheaded by Alexandre Aja’s worldwide hit High Tension (2003).

It made its U.S debut under the title Radio Silence via the festival circuit, where it won multiple Best Film and Best Director awards at the Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles, the Sacramento Horror Film Fest, the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, and the Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival.

You can watch the full film—with English subtitles—on TubiTv. You can catch up on the cycle of French Horror Films with this great roundup on Scoopwoop.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and B&S Movies, and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Straight Talk (1992)

Straight Talk has been sitting on my shelf, part of a Mill Creek set along with VI Washawski, just taunting me, knowing that someday, somehow, someway that it would end up sitting in my DVD player, ready to cast its magic spell.

Writer Craig Bolotin often worked uncredited on films like Desperately Seeking Susan before writing this film. He’d go on to also write and executive produce Black Rain. This one was directed by Barnet Kellman, who is more well-known for his TV work.

The real draw, of course, is Dolly Parton. She plays Shirlee Kenyon, a dance instructor wallowing in Arkansas with her boyfriend, who is played by Michael Madsen. Yes, in the same year that he played Mr. Blonde, Madsen was the backwoods drunk beau of Dolly in a movie that no one remembers.

But he’s not the love interest. Oh no, that’d be James Woods, who plays a crusading reporter who has lost his way. He saves Dolly early in the film when she tries to fish a Jackson off a bridge. Then, of course, she talked a young Teri Hatcher into dumping Mr. Woods, who of course falls for our girl, who falls into a job as a talk radio psychotherapist.

She’s not a doctor, you may yell. Guess what, pal? You just realized the dramatic issue here. Can Dolly keep the job she’s best at? Will Woods divine her secret? Will Madsen screw it all up? And what the hell is up with this amazing supporting cast, which boasts Griffin Dunne, Tony Award-winners Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Philip Bosco, Jerry Orbach, John Sayles (yes, the man who wrote PiranhaThe Howling and Battle Beyond the Stars), Spalding Grey in a cameo as a rival shrink, Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit’s voice), Jay Thomas (who was a real radio man himself and plays Zim Zimmerman here)?

It’s also Ron Livingston’s screen debut. So it has that going for it.

Seriously, Straght Talk is way better than it seems that it will be. I don’t think that it presents the right path to radio — it completely rips off an old WKRP In Cincinnati episode’s plot, too — but it’s a quick movie that’s helped by Parton’s limitless charm. Yep — I’ve been front row for several of her shows and an unabashed fan, so your mileage may vary.

Dead Air (2009)

If the Lifetime cable channel decided to make a zombie movie, it would be this low-budget attempt at grafting Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic zombie film 28 Days Later (2002) with Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio (1998).

“Hey, wait a minute . . . dude, I know this movie . . . but Dead Air? Is this an alternate title for the Canadian horror film Pontypool (2008)?

Nope.

This is L.A., baby. Not the boondocks of Pontypool, Ontario.

That film—and if you’re into radio station zombies, it is clearly the better film (and not by much, to be honest)—starred Steven McHattie (Crown and Anchor, Watchmen). This one reteams Bill Moseley and Patricia Tallman from Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake—which was used as a major selling point to sucker us into renting this dead bore. (They’re a bickering divorced couple who still work together as a host and producer team.)

As with Pontypool, a Los Angeles late-night talk show host, Logan Burnhardt (Bill Moseley), and his production team are trapped inside a radio station during a zombie outbreak—this one instigated by a terrorist attack of “dirty bombs” ignited at major sporting events across the United States. Burnhardt’s crew stays on the air and takes calls and feeds information to listeners as the chaos unfolds. Then the terrorist responsible for the L.A bomb hijacks Burnhardt’s show to feed false information to the listeners and “stoke the fires of hatred.”

Yawn.

Lost somewhere in the dead boredom is a “message” about mob mentality and xenophobia, but by that point in the film, you just don’t care about the political propaganda Dead Air is selling. There’s no suspense or thrills. No threat of terror. No fear of violence. Not even a soupçon of horror. The “zombies” are nothing more than a bunch of flailing, petulant children from Central Casting, utterly devoid of violence and gore, with a splash of stage blood on their kissers sent on their way to run and growl. They’re actually not even zombies; they’re just human versions of rabid dogs prone to violence from the bomb’s toxins.

Yawn.

And the equipment in that radio studio! Logan Burnhardt is supposedly the #1 syndicated late-night talk host in the nation broadcasting from Los Angeles, the #2 rated media market in the country—and the studio is equipped with a recording studio audio mixing board as an on-air board? A reel-to-reel deck set on a counter top? This is 2009! All radio stations—especially in the major markets—converted to digital platforms and ditched analog recording over 15 years ago.

Ugh! Argh!

Seriously. The awesome Bill friggin’ Moseley—the Eric Roberts of horror—is in this and he can’t sell this zom-romp. And Moseley’s the man who sold us on Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out (1989). And Bill’s the lone reason we pushed the PPV “buy” button on Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge and 3 From Hell.

But it’s cool, Bill. We know it’s not your fault and we still love you.

Dead Air isn’t incompetent. It’s not awful in a George Romero Italian-green grease paint rip-off zombie kind of way. All of the various film disciplines have checked off all the right boxes. But that’s just it. It’s just “box checking” and everything is flat. It just lays there—and zombies can’t rest. They can never rest. They need to be on the move. But, one must consider that $500,000 budget the film was up against—and you can only do so much with a half million. So the question is: Will your passion for Bill’s work or your passion for cheesy, b-horror films from the video fringe give this a pass. But it’s Bill, right? You can check it out for free on You Tube.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Dead Air (1994)

When you need a suspenseful slasher flick, a neo-giallo or neo-noir thriller competently done on a tight budget, director Fred Walton (April Fool’s Day, The Rosary Murders) is the man to call. His 1979 debut film, the babysitter stalker flick When a Stranger Calls, budgeted at $1.7 million was brought in under budget at $1.5 million in an 18-day shoot. The film subsequently grossed over $21 million and became one of Columbia Studios’ top grossing films for the year.

For reasons unknown, even after the success of those three theatrical films, Walton retreated into low-budget TV work, directing a host of entertaining cable psycho-thrillers: a remake of 1965’s I Saw What You Did (1988), Trapped (1989), Murder in Paradise (1990), The Price She Paid (1992), Homewrecker (1992), the TV sequel to his debut, When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), The Courtyard (1995), and his final film, The Stepford Husbands (1996).

As for the influence of and the respect afforded to When a Stranger Calls: Director Wes Craven paid homage to Walton’s debut by duplicating the film’s 20 minute opening sequence—deemed as one of the scariest openings sequences in a horror film—in the first 10 minutes of his 1996 horror hit, Scream. (If you’ve never seen When a Stranger Calls, it’s highly recommended you do. It’s on You Tube.)

So, with that back story on Walton’s cinema forte—along with this film’s title, its tagline and artwork of the one-sheet—you’ve probably guessed the plot of this film is somewhat similar to the previously reviewed Power 98—with a lone DJ noir-spiraling into a web of murder and deceit driven by a mysterious caller.

And if you’re keeping track of your radio psychos, you know the concept of a killer having a relationship with a radio host dates to Clint Eastwood’s 1971 directorial debut, Play Misty for Me. And you’ll recall the post-Halloween slasher ‘80s brought us the first of several psycho films concerning a serial killer harassing a radio host, which began with the U.K’s Section 3 video nasty, Don’t Answer the Phone (1980). Others in the cycle include Open House (1987) and Outside Ozona (1998), along with the cable films The Night Caller (1998) starring Tracy Nelson, Requiem for Murder (1999) starring Molly Ringwald, and A Lover’s Revenge (2005) starring Baywatch’s Alexandra Paul.

However, don’t let that familiarity deter you from watching Walton’s take on the radio psycho genre.

Three things make Dead Air work—where other low budget, set-in-radio station flicks fail. First, is the well-researched and intelligent script by David Amann (TV’s The X Files, Crossing Jordan, Without a Trace, and Castle) that not only knows its noir cues, but allows the radio station employees to sound like real radio station employees. Second, it was shot inside a real radio station—KKHR outside of Bakersfield, Ca. (the film was also shot in Agua Dulce, Ca. also outside of L.A.) Third, Gregory Hines (Cotton Club, Wolfen) did his research; he handles the equipment, along with the grease pencils and razor blades as he splices audio tape, with the skills of a radio pro.

Mark Jannek (Gregory Hines) is an L.A. DJ who specializes in incorporating his love of film noir into his music programs by re-creating old time, nourish radio dramas (remember: Eastwood’s Dave Garver worked his knowledge of poetry into his shows). After the murder of his girlfriend, Kathie, by an “obsessive fan,” Jannek restarts his life under the on-air name of Jim Sheppard at a small station in a dusty oil field town, far from the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles.

As is the case with most DJs suffering from ego issues: “Jim” is back to his old tricks and ends up at a bar after his shift . . . and meets a girl, Judy, for a one-night stand (dude, did you learn nothing from Nick West in Night Rhythms?). The next night Mark’s on the air, the ever-present #1 fan who’s been obsessively calling the show tells him she has Judy—and murders Judy while he’s on the air. Of course, the cops don’t believe him—and there’s no record of the call. Utilizing his knowledge of the noir genre, Mark starts his own gumshoein’ investigation and tracks down Judy—and finds her body. Then the cat and mouse games ensue with the mystery fan making more untraceable phone calls and leaving messages on self-erasing cassette tapes, with Mark twisting in a web that takes him from victim, to witness, to suspect—not only in Judy’s murder, but in Susan’s, his producer at the station, and, the police believe, Kathie’s murder back in Los Angeles.

Is the person who killed Judy and Susan the same person who killed Mark’s girlfriend in Los Angeles? Is it the jealous DJ who got bumped from his shift to make way for Mark? Is it the psychology student (Debrah Farentino, TV’s NYPD Blue, Earth 2), who’s writing a thesis paper on broadcasting? Is it Kathie’s sister, Lara, who discovers she’s also becoming tangled in a web by her sister’s killer? Is it Morton, the station’s dweeby chief engineer?

The ending of Dead Air is a genuine, twisty shocker. Granted, it’s not a “shocker” of the Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct nourish level, this is a direct-to-cable movie after all, but a shocker none-the less and certainly above the “shock ending” of other radio-noirs in its wake.

Look for an early role from John Hawkes as Morton, who got his start in the sci-fi cheapy Future-Kill (1985) and made it all the way to the Golden Globes and the Oscars with nominated roles in Winter’s Bone (2010) and The Sessions (2012). Horror hounds will immediately recognize Beau Starr in his role as Lieutenant Marvin Gallis from his roles in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, as well as his much seen roles (thanks their incessant cable replays) in Goodfellas as Henry Hill’s father (1990), and Speed (1994).

VHS rip of the full film on You Tube. You can also watch a preview trailer courtesy of Video Detective.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Play Misty for Me (1971)

During B&S About Movies’ “Radio Week,” you’ll notice we’ve reviewed a few Lifetime broadcast “radio psycho” films and mention this modest directorial debut by Clint Eastwood in passing. This tale about a womanizing DJ hooking up with the wrong fan is where the “genre” began.

The script was conceived by Jo Heims, whose career dates back to working behind the scenes as a production secretary on 1958’s Missile to the Moon*, while her earliest screenwriting credits included 1960’s The Girl in Lover’s Lane, 1961’s The Devil’s Hand and Elvis Presley’s Double Trouble. Coming to know Eastwood through their mutual employer, Universal Studios, Heims would also co-write Eastwood’s breakout role with 1971’s Dirty Harry.

The production values on the radio station are courtesy of Play Misty for Me being shot inside Carmel, California’s KRML 1410 AM. Also adding to the realism of the station’s jazz format in the film is the shooting of additional scenes at the September 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival featuring appearances by Cannonbally Adderley and Johnny Otis.

A “live” DJ, carts, turntables, reel-to-reel decks, and rotary pot audio boards? That’s audio heaven.

While the studio initially wanted to go with the title “The Slasher” and market Eastwood’s directorial debut as a horror film, he got the title changed when he obtained the rights to Erroll Garner’s 1954 song “Misty” after he saw the jazz icon perform at the 1970 Concord Music Festival. He then acquired the rights for Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for $2,000; a popular British folk standard originally released in 1957 (You Tube), the song was written by British political singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl and sung by his American folkie wife Peggy Seger. Another song purchased for use in the film was Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me).”

Yeah, Dirty Harry Callahan knows his jazz. Punk.

Now for the backstory and the runaway success on Flack’s other hit, “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” originally recorded by Lori Lieberman. (No: it’s not in the movie.)

An early seventies confessional folk-pop singer in the mode of hit makers Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Janis Ian, Lori Lieberman signed a production, recording and publishing deal with the songwriting partnership of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel who, in turn, signed their own production deal with Capitol Records.

As with most of the forgotten musical acts of late sixties and early seventies burgeoning American FM radio era, the Internet exhumed Lieberman’s career frustrations in the wake of her 1971 debut single, “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” when it became a 1997 Grammy Award-winning single for the American Hip-Hop group, the Fugees—remade under the truncated title of “Killing Me Softly,” from the Fugees’ 1996 album, The Score.

From the time the song became one of the biggest-selling number one singles of 1973, as remade by R&B artist Roberta Flack, credits and royalties for the song became a point of contention for Lieberman, as she long claimed she contributed to the song’s lyrics. While the writing team of Fox and Gimbel scored another 1973 Top Ten hit with Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” and composed the television theme songs for the ABC-TV Network’s Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, Lieberman floundered with three more albums for Capitol in the United States. Those albums, however, found a receptive audience in Europe (a country rife with voracious music connoisseurs**), which resulted in a top-selling, Euro-only release of a 1976 greatest hits package, The Best of Lori Lieberman.

Lieberman recently released her 17th and 18th albums, Ready for the Storm and The Girl and The Cat, produced by Bob Clearmountain, known for his work with Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and Bon Jovi.

As for Play Misty for Me: The most awesome aspect of this film is that Universal didn’t have much faith in turning over a film to Eastwood. So he waved his usual acting fee and was paid only as a director. To say Eastwood “showed them” is an understatement. He wrapped the film five days ahead of schedule and made it $50,000 short of its budget $950,000 budget. Play Misty for Me went on to gross $11 million in its initial release and, when it became a VHS rental in the ‘80s, earned another $6 million.

You can stream it on Amazon Prime and Vudu.

* You can catch up with more pre-Star Wars sci-fi films, such as Missile to the Moon, with our Exploring: Before Star Wars feature.

** Another Capitol Records’ artist that failed to make a mark with U.S audiences and came to find — years later — a receptive European audience, was Jim Morrison’s doppelganger: The Phantom. I wrote a couple of books about that ’70s Detroit musician, which you can learn more about on Smashwords. (I know, I know. Shamless plug. Doh!)

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

RADIO WEEK REWIND: Bad Channels (1992)

Ted Nicolaou directed Subspecies, TerrorVision and The Dungeonmaster in addition to this film, where two aliens named Cosmo and Lump take over Superstation 66, a small radio station in Pahoota, California. Meanwhile, DJ Dan O’Dare and Flip Humble have a scam going on that involves a car and polka records. If you haven’t figured out by now that Bad Channels is weird, here’s your confirmation.

Most of Bad Channels is made up of music video performances from DMT, Blind Faith and Sykotik Sinfoney, dancing fungus and humans getting shrunk down. Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn shows up. There’s also a nun playing guitar in a shopping cart.

Even crazier, Blue Öyster Cult scored this entire movie!

When Becca and I first started dating, she was looking everywhere for a copy of this movie. I got it for her and it solidified our relationship. Therefore, I love this movie a lot more than your average person.

It amazes me that this movie was made in 1992 and not at any time in the 1980’s. Nurse Ginger from this movie would return in 1993’s Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, a crossover film of Full Moon properties.

Night Owl (1993)

Don’t be logline or synopsis duped and don’t be conned by the film’s jazz score and soft-focus photography: Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride, and Vampire’s Kiss, Doctor M) isn’t a “pretty female radio DJ” or a “sultry nighttime disc jockey” and this isn’t a Lifetime-styled, soft-core sex thriller set inside a radio station. This is a ghost story. And it’s a fantasy-horror ghost story and not a romantic-fantasy like its inspirational antecedent: 1990’s Ghost, starring Demi Moore.

Julia (Beals) is a successful New York doctor specializing in audiology and speech pathology. She’s ready to walk away from five years of marriage to Harry, her ne’er-do-well jazz saxophone player husband (familiar TV actor James Wilder), who’s prone to cheating on her—and lying about the affairs.

She begins investigating the sudden rash of men self-mutilating (one gouges his ear drums) and committing suicides (Harry’s bandmate freaks out on stage, runs off, and jumps off a building). The one trait they have in common: they scream “She’s in my head!” over and over.

That “voice” is The Night Owl, a sultry overnight jazz disc jockey newly syndicated on the New York airwaves of WPKZ. “Her” voice captivates men—promiscuous men in particular—and feeds on their carnal desires during the full moon of the autumn equinox. And the station’s manager claims there is no “Night Owl.” And the FCC believers her to be a pirate radio operator broadcasting off the coast of New York. And Julia scoffs at the warnings of Dr. Matthews (Jackie Burroughs; The Dead Zone, Willard 2003), a professor of ancient folklore convinced the men are the victims of an ancient Siren.

And The Night Owl’s newest victim is Harry, who’s to be her Halloween sacrifice. And The Night Owl is prone to attacking the lovers of her victims in bed, raking them with her ghostly hand and wrapping a bed sheet around their necks.

Night Owl is a smartly written mystery by the female-writing TV team of Ann Powell and Rose Schacht; they draw their tale from the Greek folklore of Homer’s The Odyssey in which Ulysses and his ship’s crew comes under the bewitching spell of the Sirens. Using the airwaves to attract male listeners—in lieu of ocean waves and sailors—is a nice twist to an old legend. The script’s only weakness is its constricting 88-minute TV movie running time (this ran as a USA Network original before the channel became a rerun shill for NBC-TV; enough with the Law & Order!) that doesn’t allow for a deeper exploration of its themes.

You’ve seen director Matthew Patrick’s work before with his 1989 debut film, the highly-rated USA Network cable movie Hider in the House; Patrick doesn’t host that Gary Busey-starring movie on his personal You Tube page, since that film is owned by Lionsgate.

Beware of those Night Owl grey market DVD-rs in the marketplace, as this one has never been officially released on DVD. Luckily, Patrick shares a VHS rip of the film on his You Tube page to enjoy. He’s also uploaded his follow up to Hider in the House, the 1993 USA Network horror-thriller Tainted Blood starring Raquel Welch.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

* VHS image courtesy of himalaya_hardware/eBay.