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January 01, 2006

Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big Eight

Michael McNamara - 2004
Markham Street Films Region 0 DVD

Happy New Year! I am inaugurating 2006 with a new DVD that was released last week.

There was a time when rock radio was very important to me. This began in the early Sixties when it seemed like every kid had there own transistor radio. That radio was usually tuned in on one specific radio station. When I started listening, in the summer of 1963, sometimes for hours at a time, I would listen to WLS which was the major Chicago radio station. A couple of years later, when I moved to Denver, the radio station was KIMN. The playlists were a bit broader then, sometimes reflecting regional tastes, and the disc jockeys were regarded like major stars. I switched to the FM dial and "free-form" rock radio in late 1968. For my first couple of years at NYU, I had the opportunity to be a disc jockey on the school radio station. I happily played Jackie Lomax and Captain Beefheart, while my loyal listeners, a group of fellow dorm Freshmen would regularly call to request the Mick Jagger parody, "I Can't Get No Nookie" by The Masked Marauders.

I still enjoy movies and television shows about radio stations and disc jockeys. Radio Revolution is a documentary that originally was made for Canadian television. Even if one takes some of the statements made about radio station CKLW with a grain of salt, it is still a worthwhile reminder of a time when one heard a broader range of pop and rock music that was shared with a wider audience.

The majority of the film is about CKLW during during the radio station's most popular years from about 1965 through 1978. "The Big 8" refers to the station being on AM 800. Based in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the majority of listeners were in the Detroit metro area. CKLW became THE station in the mid-Sixties after adapting a format created by Bill Drake which emphasised playing more music, with less banter from the disc jockeys. One of the more interesting stories within the film is about Rosalie Trombley, a part-time secretary who rose to become a music director of such acute taste that other radio stations would follow her lead. Ms. Trombley was reportedly immune to payola, unless you want to count being treated to lunch by The Guess Who. As a show of unquestionable integrity, CKLW was the only station not to play Bob Seger's song about Trombley, "Rosalie". The other interesting story is about the news unit, which had an exceptionally large staff of twenty-four, covering Windsor and Detroit. The delivery of the news was formatted into a hyper style to integrate it as a piece with the music and on-air personalities. There was emphasis on alliteration and colloquial verbage, including one reporter's appeal for news tips, be they "birdbaths or bloodbaths".

The station's popularity declined due to a government mandate to play at least 30% Canadian music. Even without the sales of the station to Canadian owners and changes in the playlist, it is still pretty likely that CKLW would have joined other AM stations with the all-talk format. Still, it is entertaining to watch a parade of talking heads that includes Alice Cooper, Wayne Kramer, and Tony Orlando. Most of the extras are padded versions of scenes in the film, though there is one funny deleted scene involving Rufus Thomas and his song and dance, The Funky Chicken.

Based on the clips from their other films, Radio Revolution is one of several idiosyncratic documentaries from Markam Street Films.

Posted by peter at January 1, 2006 01:54 PM


My favorite movie DJ is Clint in Play Misty For Me.

Posted by: girish at January 2, 2006 12:45 AM