Tonight, Lisa and I watched the 1978 movie FM on VH-1 Classic.
This is a time capsule of the late 1970s, complete with feathered hair on the guys, perms on the women, and a plotline about Sticking It To The Man, ‘Cause He Just Doesn’t Get It.
The movie centers around the operations at a Los Angeles radio station, QSKY. The station’s owners send a new salesman to LA to goose up their ad revenues, and QSKY’s management and air staff are resistant to their evil, capitalistic ways. After refusing to air some ads for the Army, station manager Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) quits and there’s a fan-and-DJ revolt, resulting in the station going under siege.
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because the TV series WKRP in Cincinnati was written around the same basic premise. Supposedly, the movie and TV show had nothing to do with each other– the WKRP pilot was shot before FM was released. Interesting coincidence, though. (The “station under siege” device was also used in the 1994 movie Airheads.)
Martin Mull was early in his career when he played a DJ in the cast of FM; his character is simply an extension of the “Barth Gimble” character he played on Fernwood/America 2-Night. Eileen Brennan plays “Mother,” a 40-something evening DJ, and Cleavon Little plays the overnight DJ,
Venus Flytrap “The Prince of Darkness” (sorry, there’s that ‘KRP influence again).
The movie also features cameos by REO Speedwagon, Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett (looking like he’s around age 20), and a soundtrack that you could program any soft-rock station by, although I put nearly every track here on the Songs-I’ll-Never-Need-To-Hear-Ever-Again-As-Long-As-I-Live list. I get the impression that many people are unaware that the Steely Dan song “FM” was actually written as the title track for this movie.
(As an aside, it’s worth pointing out the soundtrack’s album cover was designed by John Kosh, the guy responsible for drawing about 90% of the album covers released in the late 70s and early 80s.)
The movie itself is passable; I don’t recommend going out of your way to view it unless you want to see what life was like in 1978. That said…
Those of you who know me may recall that I had a bit of an infatuation with Linda Ronstadt around this time. FM features a concert performance by Ms. Ronstadt, which was enough to get me into the theatre and sit through this thing. She sings a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” that pretty much makes up for everything we had to watch on the screen up to that point.
I saw the movie in the theatre when it opened in April of 1978. When I went back a week later, it had already closed. It would occasionally pop up on cable and eventually came out on DVD, but by then it was already terribly dated with one exception: the whole story line about turning radio into something focused entirely on profit turned out to be spot-on.
It’s quite a little time capsule, though.