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.