Here's a sad truth that Hollywood doesn't want you to hear - a life on radio isn't as exciting as it sounds.
The silver screen has always drawn the DJ as a wavelength-riding cowboy playing fast and loose at love, life and FCC guidelines.
The truth is less romantic. Radio is more often about long hours, extensive prep time and, when the on-air sign does flash red, it's usually over the door of a cramped, crowded booth equipped with a microphone that smells vaguely of old coffee and perhaps the occasional cheeseburger.
But that wouldn't make a good movie, would it? The truth is (thankfully) jettisoned in favor of entertainment and we have the following five outstanding and, if not particularly honest, at least entertaining, radio movies:
PUMP UP THE VOLUME (1990): Set in sterile suburbs somewhere in urban Arizona, this tale of disaffected youths empowered by the possibilities of pirate radio features a rare, noncringe-worthy Christian Slater performance and a truly rocking soundtrack. While the denouement is a little open-ended and becomes a bit preachy and polemics, this movie remains a fine reminder of the power of love, music and teen angst.
GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987): Adrian Cronauer, the real-life radio man who brought the sounds of rock to Vietnam, was a far more serious, and certainly more sedate, personality than live wire Robin Williams. But in the movies, truth rarely gets in the way of a good story, and the Good Morning, Vietnam version of Mr. Cronauer is one of Mr. Williams' great cinematic moments.
AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973): Serving as Greek chorus to the youths in transition that populate George Lucas' coming-of-age tale, Wolfman Jack does little besides introduce classic tunes, offer simple observations and, when called on, make an obvious suggestion or two. But the wonder of the role is how, with so little, he's able to convey the hopes and fears of every generation that has ever found itself balancing on the edge between youth and adulthood.
THE FISHER KING (1991): Part indictment of media irresponsibility, part riff on the Holy Grail legend and Big Apple love letter, The Fisher King takes disparate parts and spins them into a magical, cohesive whole. The movie features Jeff Bridges as a shock jock whose schtick leads to tragedy, and Robin Williams plays his one, somewhat delusional, shot at redemption.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971): It's hard, I would imagine, when you're in a cocoon of a broadcast booth, to remember that while you're all alone, people are listening, responding to the words you say and the music you play. Such is the set-up for Play Misty for Me, an effective thriller that pits Clint Eastwood, playing a late-night radio host, against an obsessive, and ultimately dangerous, fan.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.