A Movie A Day #182: FM (1978, directed by John A. Alonzo)


Hey, California!  Are you ready to soft rock!?

That is the question asked by FM, a movie about rock that tries to stick it to the man with some of the safest, least revolutionary music ever recorded.

FM is centered around Q-Sky, an FM radio station in Los Angeles.  Because the laid back station manager (Michael Brandon) allows his DJs to program their own music with little commercial interruption, Q-Sky has become one of the most popular radio stations in California.  The corporate suits, though, demand that Q-Sky play less music and air more commercials, especially one that is specifically designed to get mellow Californians to join the Army.  When Brandon refuses, he is fired.  Outraged, Q-Sky’s motley crew of DJs (who include Martin Mull, Cleavon Little, Eileen Brennan, and even former football great Alex Karras) barricade themselves in the station and lead a protest by playing their music without commercials.

That would all be well and good except that the DJs spend most of their time playing songs by such noted rockers as Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel, and REO Speedwagon.  A major set piece of the film is Q-Sky’s attempt to secretly broadcast a Linda Ronstadt concert that is being sponsored by a rival station.  At a time when Johnny Rotten was still singing Anarchy in the UK,  Q-Sky’s idea of rebellion was to go from Bob Seger to James Taylor with limited commercial interruption.

The always reliable Martin Mull is always good for some laughs and this was the only movie directed by award-winning cinematographer John A. Alonzo so, if nothing else, FM always looks good.  With its ensemble cast and episodic narrative, FM tries hard to be an Altmanesque satire but, ultimately, it fails because the revolution is not going to sound like The Doobie Brothers.

(Even though The Doobie Brothers clearly rock.)

“Who likes The Doobie Brothers?”

Because Michael Brandon looked like Gary Sandy and Martin Mull possessed a passing resemblance to Howard Hesseman, some reference books state that FM was the inspiration for WKRP in Cincinatti.  However, the first season of WKRP was already in production before FM was released to theaters and FM was such a financial flop that it is doubtful it inspired anything.

Add to that, while Venus Flytrap probably could have made it work, Dr. Johnny Fever would never have fit in at Q-Sky.  Johnny’s frequent acid flashbacks would have unnerved the mellow Q-Sky vibes.  Herb Tarlek, on the other hand…

“It must be a struggle to match the belt with the shoes.”
“Sometimes, I can’t do it.”

 

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