BluRay/DVD Reviews

RADIO REVOLUTION: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE BIG 8

By • Apr 20th, 2006 •

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Having been an FM Rock radio disc jockey on Long Island for over 25 years (and counting), I can see why ‘Films In Review’ editor Roy Frumkes deemed me worthy to review this wonderful documentary about the BIG 8, a 50,000 Watt Canadian Top 40 radio station that beamed its signal into the ears, minds and hearts of listeners all over the world, and practically dictated the way in which hits were chosen, formats were created, artists were plugged, and news was broadcast on Top 40 radio for over three decades in the western hemisphere.

But…before I begin, let me make it perfectly clear to you all…this film is by no means just for those who love Top 40 radio, especially the way it used to sound in the 60’s and 70’s. This is the story of a bygone era of entertainment and a way of doing business in the music industry that has totally vanished from the face of the earth.

It seems incomprehensible that there once was a time when the very lifeblood of the music industry, the way in which hit songs were chosen and played, was dictated by the play-list choices made by a select number of radio station program directors throughout the country. Nowadays, there are innumerable ways for artists to expose and plug their products to the consumer. (Can you say, “download?”) From ipods, to itunes, to websites, to satellites to a vast multitude of radio stations offering every known musical format under the sun, traditional mass media outlets alone no longer dictate what the consumer hears. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Now the CONSUMERS, and the TECHNOLOGY at their fingertips, tell the media what they want, when they want it, and how they want to hear it. Already, an entire generation exists that doesn’t even remember when there were just a handful of TV and radio stations to choose from. Even the bygone days of MTV (when it really meant “MUSIC TELEVISION”) are but a memory. All one has to do is go online, on cable, or on satellite TV, and choose from dozens of music channels or services like LAUNCH on Yahoo, to see videos wherever and whenever they want.

In the days when less media outlets actually meant more exposure, artists and record labels had to work hundreds of times harder to get their material played on powerhouse stations that delivered to millions of faithful listeners. Such was the case with the mighty CKLW…aka…BIG 8. This Canadian juggernaut of a radio station blasted its signal to over 62 million listeners across the North Atlantic. (Hey, we’re talking 50,000 watts here, folks. A signal like that can actually be picked up virtually anywhere!) Located directly across the street from the ‘Motor City’ – Detroit, Michigan – this mountainous mega monster of Top 40 music mania was the epicenter of all things rock and soul in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. If BIG 8 didn’t play it, no one did. It simply just didn’t exist.

This thorough, enjoyable and eye-opening documentary takes you back to when the very act of getting on big time AM Top 40 radio meant instant stardom. What makes the story all the more interesting is that the BIG 8 signal was from Canada. In no other time in Canadian or American history has there ever been any entity emanating from Canada that had such power and influence over an entire genre of American music and entertainment.

To put it country simple…this was THE ONLY radio station that mattered!

The DJ’s were the absolute cream of the crop. Personalities that just burst with life, vitality, and charisma! They knew how to talk up a tune, fast and furious. They had big, god-like booming voices that vibrated your entire being. They were HUGE! Bigger stars than many of the artists they played. Every DJ in the world wanted to be a DJ on the BIG 8. The BIG 8 was the BIG TIME!! Imagine the power they must have felt! They opened their mouths and spoke to MILLIONS! Over 62 MILLION, to be precise! Now that’s POWER!!!

The BIG 8 also changed the face of radio journalism by creating a new reading style that was more National Enquirer than National Broadcast Company. These news guys had only one mission…find the dirtiest, raunchiest, most horrendous, most foul stories imaginable…stories that pointed out the tremendous lows our human race is capable of (rape, arson, murder, corruption), and play them up TO THE HILT for every second of sick entertainment value they were worth!

You’ll have a ball listening to the way the BIG 8 news copywriters would create horrendous rhymes to give each news story a sick, twisted pitch, guaranteed to sucker listeners in. When you hear things like, “MAN MURDERS HIS OWN MOM WHEN CAUGHT MALINGERING WITH ANOTHER MAN,” well, hot damn, sucker …who wouldn’t want to stay to listen to more of that? The idea was to make the news as entertaining as the music. Brilliant.

Most amazing of all was how the station influenced the music industry and helped begin the careers of people like Elton John, The Who, Kiss, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, Marvin Gaye, The Guess Who, Martha Reeve and the Vandelles, The Ohio Players, Tony Orlando, Steppenwolf and hundreds more. Through archival footage and present day interviews with the principles and artists involved, you become totally catapulted into a time and era whose workings are long gone. Of course, the music from all these artists can be heard through the soundtrack, creating a wondrous time tunnel of sights and sounds.

Sad as it is to say, all good things must come to an end…and the political forces that reigned during the 1980’s in Canada decided that a Canadian station should devote more of its airtime to Canadian artists…and we all know how many great acts from Canada there are. (Oh, don’t get me wrong…there are a bunch…but not enough to sustain an entire radio station’s programming day.) And so, once again, politics destroyed all that was good, pure and fun in the world. Bastards!

Even though I myself had never heard of the station, there’s no denying that it influenced the kind of music and DJ style I was listening to, living on Long Island, from stations like WINS, WNEW-FM and WABC.

For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s especially, this documentary is a loving tribute to the power of radio, music, and the imagination. We shall never see its like again.

SPECIAL EDITION DVD FEATURES: Over an hour of extra scenes, outtakes, extended versions of interviews, and a picture gallery are included here, along with rare vintage graphics, production stills and ear candy audio from The BIG 8. Sit back and enjoy!

To order this film online, go to: www.radiorevolutiondvd.com


Credits:
Director & Writer: Michael McNamara
Producers: Judy Holm & Michael McNamara
Editor: Roderick Deogrades
Music: Kurt Swinghammer
Design: Shafik Jaffer
Production Manager: Kelly Jenkins

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