FM (1978)

fm 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No static at all!

Q-SKY is the number one radio station in Los Angeles and this is mainly due to program director Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) who has lined up a good rock playlist as well as an eclectic bunch of on-air personalities. However, Regis Lamar (Tom Tarpey) the sales manager wants to play some army recruitment commercials, which Jeff refuses to do and when he gets into a fight with management over it he quits. The rest of the staff decides to come to his rescue by staging an on-air sit-in where they lock themselves inside the station and refuse to play any commercials until management agrees to hire Jeff back, which soon attracts the attention of hundreds of listeners that pack the streets of L.A. until it becomes a mob scene.

If this movie succeeds at anything it is in its ability at bringing the ‘70s back to life. In fact if you ever wanted to get into a time machine and travel back to that decade to see what things were really like this film does it better than just about any other from that era. The sights, sounds and attitudes from that crazy decade literally ooze from every frame until you feel like you are living it yourself.

The film also manages to recreate the behind-the-scenes life at a radio station in a realistic way. Back in the ‘90s I worked in radio and even had my own weekend overnight show called ‘After Hours’ at a FM station in Chicago and the atmosphere shown here is on-target and enough to make me long to go back to it if it just paid more.

The characterizations are fun. Eileen Brennan takes a rare dramatic turn and does quite well playing an older D.J. named Mother who is burnt out from the business and wants to quit, but can’t quite pull herself completely away from it. Martin Mull is amusing as the narcissist Eric Swan who considers his on-air persona to be an ‘art form’ and he even traps himself inside the radio booth when he breaks up with his girlfriend and refuses to leave until one of his many female listeners agrees to take her place. Ironically both Mull and Cleavon Little who plays Prince the overnight jock also played D.J.’s in two other movies. Mull was in Jingle All the Way while Little was in Vanishing Point.

The film also has a strong ‘70s soundtrack. Not only does it open with a great stereo version of Steely Dan’s title hit, but just about every rock hit from 1978 can be heard playing in the background at some point. There is also excellent concert footage of Jimmy Buffet as well as Linda Ronstadt who does live versions of ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Poor, Poor Pitiful Me’, and ‘Love Me Tender’.

The film unfortunately falls apart at the end with a sit-in segment that proves unrealistic and exaggerated. Radio personal are hired and fired every day. It’s the nature of the business and one knows that going in and prepares for it. It is highly unlikely that any of the other employees would stage a sit-in like the one shown here simply because it would put not only their job, but careers in complete jeopardy. Dugan with his strong resume could easily find himself a job at another station pretty quickly, so their efforts seemed unnecessary. The idea that hundreds of people would come out onto the street to protest and even overturn cars is ridiculous and what’s worse is that the crowd scenes were clearly done on an inside soundstage making the entire segment look staged and fake.

I loved the first half and had it stayed on that slice-of-life level this could’ve been an interesting time capsule. In some ways it still is, but the ending gets so stupid that it pretty much ruins the whole thing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John A. Alonzo

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: VHS

4 responses to “FM (1978)

  1. I used to have the soundtrack on cassette and have always wanted to see the movie.

  2. Peter G Werner

    More remembered for the Steely Dan song (which was written for the film) than for the film itself.

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