Directed by John A. Alonzo
The disc jockeys at Q-Sky, an FM radio station in Los Angeles, love to deliver incredible smooth rock to their audiences in a bid to become the number 1 listened-to radio station in the area. However, when sales executive Regis Lamar is sent from head office to further monetise the radio station through ill-fitting advertisement programming, the Q-Sky team decide to rebel in order to save their beloved radio station from corporate destruction.
Music-led drama FM is one of those comfortable, feel-good films with its tale of office-style hijinks in the setting of a successful radio station. Opening with The Eagles’ Life in the Fast Lane, as Q-Sky’s manager Jeff Dugan races towards the station from his home with just 5 minutes to spare before The Prince of Darkness’ show ends and his show begins, you can immediately get the sense of fun that this movie has. Here’s a place of work where the employees actually enjoy their job and who wouldn’t?! Q-Sky is a station which encourages its DJ’s to play the music they want to play and to craft their own show as they see fit without outside interference.
This easy-going, DJ-led station breeds a whole host of radio personalities: ex-hippy and weary Mother; egotistical romantic Eric Swan who longs to make a big break onto TV hosting a gameshow; the Cowboy who’s ratings are on the plummet; technician Bobby Douglas who’s struggling to get his lines down to be offered a DJ job; the smooth cat Prince who hosts the night-time show and casual DJ Laura Coe who gets to interview some of the hottest musicians at the time, such as Tom Petty. The disc jockeys aren’t simply employees, they’re brothers and sisters. To them, Q-Sky is their home from which they can deliver their shows to their adoring listeners with each DJ showcasing their own unique character and style. The film properly sets aside time for the DJs too so we can actually get to know them and care what happens to them throughout the movie.
The meat of the film explores the dynamic of the station and the DJ’s as they try to keep ahead of the game, whether its in their own lives or within the station as a whole. Jeff Dugan leads the station and nurtures his fellow DJs in a big brother type role as they attempt to one-up rival stations, with one such incident involving the live broadcasting of a Linda Ronstadt gig. And you know what the brilliant thing is? The film actually takes a moment for the viewer to enjoy 2-3 tracks performed by Linda with only a few scenes of the film’s story being injected during the set. There’s also a live performance from Jimmy Buffet, which again is rather unspoiled and a joy to witness. The film isn’t just about treasuring the music; it actually delivers the same message both in story and as a piece of filmmaking by showcasing live performance by these talented musicians. From the 70’s classic rock soundtrack right down to the musicians featured in the movie themselves, FM is a celebration of both radio and music as a whole.
The conflict within FM is what the story builds up to after establishing the harmonious relationship the DJs have with each other. The characters’ battle with the corporate bigwigs who want to shove military propaganda into their programming is one that we can all get on board with. Of course, at the time of this movie, the Vietnam war had only ended 3 years earlier so the military sentiment would not have been favourable, especially with the hippie crowd. Regardless, the film doesn’t push any sort of political idea as such, and even suggests a compromise regarding the type of spots the military have in mind. However, the army refuse, wanting to use their own spots which don’t fit in with the radio station’s style, and demand a schedule that requires them to be played twice every hour on every show. The strong-arm, overpowering interference is the straw that breaks the camel’s back as the corporates attempt to destroy the quality of the station in order to make more and more money.
Although the plot is quite simple and predictable, the performances from the cast and incredible soundtrack are what makes FM a perfect watch for all types of music fans, especially classic rock enthrusiasts. It’s feel-good, hip and even nostalgic to a time before radio was controlled to the nth degree as it is now with repeated scheduling and taste for over-commercialising. It’s a pity that today’s radio stations don’t understand their listeners as much as those in FM do, even if the film’s DJ’s are disillusioned with their idea that a radio station can be sustained without advertising.
FM is an enthusiastic, spirited-slice of rock-fuelled cinema that deserves a bigger audience.
Arrow Video’s high definition presentation of FM on Blu-Ray is glorious to behold with uncompressed 2.0 PCM stereo soundtrack to let those classic rock tunes belt out. The disc also comes with a few extras including an interview with Michael Brandon who plays Jeff Dugan, who talks about his time on the film and passing over a TV series he wrote to work on FM first, as well as an interview with Ezra Sacks, the writer of FM. For music fans, an appreciation of the music featured in the movie with film and music critic Glenn Kenny, who has also been involved with radio stations, is well worth a watch.