Some of the best rock in history came out of Britain and was launched by Beatlemania in 1963 and 1964.
British kids couldn’t listen to commercial radio like we did. The British Broadcasting Corporation decided what citizens could or could not hear. Rock and roll was not part of the formatting.
So ships set sail in the North Sea to broadcast rock and roll. They did so even after pirate radio became illegal in 1967.
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Pirate Radio is a mythical flick about one of those ships.
Radio is my passion. I spent 15 years of my life on-air in capacities from morning news side-kick to rocking out as a jock — you know them as DJs — on album rock and top-40 formats and some country stations. Another 10 were spent doing film reviews at a number of Tri-Cities stations and at a jazz station in Portland.
I formatted and programmed radio stations and managed them. I love radio. Still.
So when it comes to radio movies or TV shows, I will admit bias. Most don’t come close to getting on-air delivery right. Though it is one of my favorites, no one on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati would have made it in a small market — much less Cincinnati. Some movies and TV shows, however, such as WKRP manage to capture the flavor of the industry.
Since it is now corporate-driven, I suspect working in the business is not that much fun anymore. But radio in the 1970s was a blast. In those days, owners could only possess one AM and FM per market, and the people they hired were fast, flip, hip, funny, completely egocentric and definitely insane.
This is what Pirate Radio understands. The characters are dead-on. Shallow. Self-absorbed. Musicaholics. Sex maniacs. Drug addicted. It’s all there.
Also there are stuck-in-a-rut, non-creative, power-hungry bureaucrats. Everyone must do things our way or else bureaucrats want to shut down pirate radio and will stop at nothing to kill the medium. For those loving the business, the metaphor is perfect. In the case of real radio, deregulation that allowed mega-corporations to gobble up radio stations and put profit ahead of creativity and local involvement did the trick.
Likely, there are Tri-Cities radio properties that will disagree with my assessment. But really, big corporations killed radio just as surely as the bureaucrat — played superbly by Kenneth Branagh — did it to Britain’s pirate radio in 1967.
That, too, is part of the movie’s message. Freedom of expression always threatens status quo, and in the 1960s, rock and roll was the common denominator and a perfect meeting place for a variety of groups that launched massive social change worldwide.
The Brits never did stamp out pirate radio. Today, you’ll find something like it on Internet radio stations — commercial free, anything goes, unregulated zones of personal expression. The good old days return.
As for Pirate Radio, the plot really doesn’t go anywhere, and in the end it sinks like a stone in more ways than one. But Pirate Radio has a killer soundtrack and quirky characters, and if you can get into the spirit of the times and the business, you’ll love this one.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for mature themes, language. It opens Friday, Dec. 4 at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.