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In the Time of 'Pirate Radio,' the Music Mattered


by Stephen Becker 23 Nov 2009

Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas and VideoFest. I had a really great time watching the new film Pirate Radio. Usually, I take more of an analytical look at cinema. And while this film is well made, it is the subject that got me thinking. The film is a […]

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Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas and VideoFest.

I had a really great time watching the new film Pirate Radio. Usually, I take more of an analytical look at cinema. And while this film is well made, it is the subject that got me thinking. The film is a love song to music – the music I grew up on – and how radio was so important to that music.

But more than that, the film reflects a time when music meant something.  I was inspired not just by hearing the songs but by seeing people listening to the radio and reacting with such glee to the music. It reminded me of how outside the margins both the music and the radio were. It’s hard to imagine a time when this music was thought of as frightening to advertisers rather than the soundtrack to a pitch.

The radio that this film reminds us of is one on which the DJs lived for  the music – even the shock jock was into the music first. We have gone so far from that. There were people in this town who loved the music first,  including Geroge Gimarc,  among many others, and now we are lucky to have Paul Slavens.  (Thanks to KERA for making music mater again with KXT.)

The sad part is how media consolidation has meant that there is very little local radio ownership. Playlists come from the home office, the music is bland, the passion is lost.  And along with that, the music biz has lost its way. Sure, downloading and technology have changed everything. But without the DJs who loved the music, it’s not the same. And perhaps if music programming was inspiring, we wouldn’t have so many blowhards yelling at us all over the dial.

Audio affects our emotions deeply – think about movie music. Radio affects our sense of self. We feel special about what stations are on the push button dial in the car, as opposed to what TV stations we watch.  Radio is the soundtrack of our life.  It can lift us or it can amuse us, and we can connect with it.  It affects who we think we are and how we react with our local world.  So who owns our stations and who programs them and with what really does mater. I personally hold the owners and program directors of most commercial stations at fault for  creating and maintaining noise that  diminishes civilized society. Having people who care about what goes on the airways – rather than how large the profit can be – makes the airways, our lives and our democracy better.  It used to be that broadcast stations had to serve in the public interest. Some how, that has been lost.

At the end of the film, there is a great montage of album covers of music from the era mixed with the album covers of music that this music influenced. Make sure you stay for it. Also, if you like the music, you can click here to listen to a 24-hour-a-day channel of music that inspired the film. You can also get a channel of I heart radio (an iphone app) that plays the music.

When the music’s over, turn out the lights.

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  • Bart you seem to celebrate the real pirate radio. Yet KERA, NPR, this very blog, and the new radio station , are blocking out any mention of the new wave of music called Post-Bands music. It started here in Dallas and is against what rock and popular music have become. Rock has become everything it started out opposing, say the artists in the art revolution..
    Sure its fine to celebrate those days when nothing then, can now make waves. But what about the new music that, being part of the art revolution in all arts and media, openly opposes corporate art? It’s making waves now. It is pirate radio, and music, and art, and literature, and media, etc. Seems you are talking with two tongues in a way. What was rebellious then was great. What is trying to bring quality and excitement back to music now, the new rebellion, is to be blocked.

    • lester bangs

      Tom, if this “post-bands” music is the hot new thing, why are you the only one who ever writes about it?

    • bart

      tom who are these post bands?

  • I’m just the loudest

  • Pingback: Big D Blog: Pirate Radio Gives Dallas Film Expert A Case of Nostalgia : The Daily Mustang()

  • Judith Samson

    Hello Bart,

    Loved reading your piece–always glad to hear or read your voice and
    will always be glad to see your face live.

    Friends and I happened into Pirate Radio one night recently and nearly fell out of our seats with joy throughout the film! What a wonder! We laughed, elbowed each other, seat-danced, sang along and just flat loved it every minute. Buying the sound-track for friends, nieces, nephews and myself for Chanukah and Christmas with delight. I agree
    with your every word.

    And thank God for my lifelines, 90.1 and their new 93.7. God save Radio!! (And, for God’s sake, our good NEWSPAPERS in this country and all over the word! They save us too!)

    Judith