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Monday, December 7, 2009

Pirate Radio - The Boat That Sank

I went to see Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked) yesterday with my 17 year old son.

Verdict? I'll have that for you, right after these words...

Boss Radio hit Boss Angeles in the summer of 1965 as Drake/Chenault and Ron Jacobs used 93KHJ to dismantle what had been LA radio. By the end of the year, my home town of Santa Barbara California had it's own top 40 legend, complete with the PAMS jingle package. In those days, 1340 KIST was scoring a 70 share in the local surveys.

Anyway, I was raised on the sounds of Top 40 AM radio on a Montgomery Ward transistor radio smuggled under the covers at 11:00 PM. Years later, I became part of the last wave of top 40 radio when I became a DJ and a program director. I started when I was just 20 and working part time on a Top 40 AM station on the California Coast. I wasn't legal to drink but I had a license to play rock n' roll on KUHL (The Super Cool) radio at 2:00 AM on Saturday nights.

And now about the movie...

The Bad News.

It didn't happen like that. Radio Caroline has a much more interesting story. Too bad they booted it in favor of a fantasy that pales in comparison. The offshore pirates did have a major impact and Brits loved their home grown radio and the American influenced fireworks that followed. But this film isn't doing that any justice.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a fine actor who absolutely SUCKS in this move. He was badly mis- cast here. He's 43 years old for Christ's sake! Too old to play a rock DJ in 1966 - an era that didn't trust anyone over 30. He should have been 26 and thin as a rail.

The story was re-edited for the American market... but apparently not for coherency. It's a film clipped together from what must have been a fun shoot. And it ends in a tragically over hyped and lame finale. Once again, sticking to the truth would have been better.

The disturbing irony is that this film is a tribute to artistic and cultural freedom that ends up mocking it. It was hacked by the studio to try and salvage box office. In other words this is what the 60's would have looked like if the international entertainment corporations had supervised the birth of R&B. It's clear that the creatives lost. And isn't that what really happened to radio.

The good news.

There ARE bits and pieces worth seeing here. There are moments of what are (or could easily be) radio truth. The cruel groupie. The young man getting laid. The live broadcast of the young man getting laid. The comradeship, the desperate heart break, the ridiculous attitudes, the egos, the outrageous moments that came out live on thousands of watts of radio energy - they were all represented here. Those are things that I saw or participated in as a young DJ. And it was wonderful.

My son liked the movie. He liked the "Young Carl" angle of the story. But as we left the theater I realized another reason why this film struggled to find an audience. Nobody under 30 understands it. How could they?

Remember American Graffitti? All of the cars out cruising on Saturday night had their radios tuned to Wolfman Jack. You could get out of you car and walk around town and you'd still hear the same radio station coming from 100 small speakers all around you. That was rock and roll radio. And for a moment I was part of it.


Mary Payne said...

Hi John,

Re American Graffitti

At the height of the offshore radio era, it was the same here. Everyone was tuned in to the pirates.

Interestingly, the portrayal of The Count isn't that far out. Some of the jocks we had here were a little long in the tooth, simply because it was pretty hard to recruit anyone with radio experience in a country with nowhere that they could gain it.

Radio London's first Programme Director Ben Toney was an ancient 34-year-old, when he sailed with the ship from Miami in 1964. Ben found it extremely difficult to recruit anyone with broadcasting experience and he ended up employing a mixture of raw young recruits and older guys who had worked on Australian and Canadian stations.

The guys who were really there relish having had the chance to be on those ships and forts and be a part of history. On the whole, they hate the movie for failing to depict any sort of reality. This is a bunch of 21st Century characters portraying a parody of real events of the Sixties. The costumes were good, but the year was supposed to be 1966 and the filmakers couldn't even manage to stick to record releases from that year!

Critics have slated the scenes of listeners crying when the station closed as ludicrous. This is one thing the film got right! People did cry (and it wasn't just the girls!). Something we loved was being taken away from us. 1000 people turned up at Liverpool Street station to meet the train carrying the Radio London DJs when the station closed at 1500 on August 14th 1967. It's a date that we commemorate still. Radio London's closing announcement still makes me cry.

Best wishes, Mary
Radio London

John Quimby said...

Mary -

Thanks for your comments and the details on Radio London.

You said, "...pretty hard to recruit anyone with radio experience..."

We find ourselves in the same place here today. It was Dewey Phillips, a Memphis DJ known as, "The Mouth of the South" who put Elvis on the radio and made "That's Alright Mamma" a hit.
Those days are long gone.

But Mary, I believe it's only a mater of time before the people walking around with ipods and mobile phones are re-introduced to broadcasting.

I encourage everyone to follow Mary's link to Radio London!

And for being the ninth caller, you've won tickets to the all night monster feature at the Twin Screens Drive In!