Going to the Movies – Corporate FM

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

Going to the Movies is written by Mount Vernon Triangle resident Catherine Taegel.

Debuting at the D.C. Independent Film Festival this week, “Corporate FM” digs deep into what has happened to radio over the last 20 years and what it’s doing to our communities. It talks about how radio helped elevate local bands, discuss issues within the listening area, and instill a sense of community. There is something powerful about knowing that what you are hearing is being heard by thousands of your neighbors – connecting you all to a specific place and time.

“Corporate FM” focuses in on the little known Telecommunications Act of 1996 , which really becomes the cornerstone of this film. Compelling interviews and historical references show us how this little known or cared about act has affected local radio and what that means for communities nationwide. Heavily focused on Lawrence, Kansas and radio station KLZR, the narrative draws between what local radio was and what it has now become.

[More after the jump]

After the Telecommunications Act passed in 1996, “mom and pop” radio stations were either bought out or out of business. Corporations were now able to buy multiple stations in one market and it became very difficult for the smaller stations to compete for listeners, and, in turn, advertising. Change in music styles and popularity had always been heavily driven by local radio stations. However, DJs were no longer able to introduce local bands, because they weren’t on a label. Certain songs were told to be played, on repeat. Since 1996, even though there is more music and platforms to consume it on than ever, most small bands have been kept in what the film calls “indie limbo.”

The film gives us historical perspective without being too dry. The documentary jumps between interviews and these personal accounts allow the film to naturally progress and move the audience between issues. Featured in mini interviews throughout the film are several big name performers – including Jewel and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne – but also features music journalists and, most importantly, the radio personalities that have witnessed this stark transformation.

We often hear about “going local” in terms of goods and services. “Corporate FM” shows us how integral local radio is in bringing it all together – including not just music,  but events, announcements (emergency and non-emergency), and ways to help out. The audience is shown, and explicitly told, that there are several forces and pieces that help make a community a community and when one of those pieces is removed there are ripple effects that lower all of our qualities of life.

An appropriate blend of a historical and call to action documentary, “Corporate FM” stays historical pretty much until the last five minutes of the film. Within those few minutes, radio personalities, media, and musicians give their two cents on what the public can do to help reverse the tide from corporations and venture capitalists owning several stations and driving local radio out of relevancy. The film could have featured more music from smaller bands throughout the interviews. However, they only had so much time and a lot of information to present. Overall, it’s well made and anyone who appreciates music and what it means forcommunity can appreciate this film.

You can see “Corporate FM” at 7:00 pm tonight at the US Navy Heritage Center (Metro stop: Archives/Navy Memorial). The screening will be held in the President’s Room.

One Comment

  • That was one of my favorite radio stations when I was a kid. I wonder if the movie has any footage of when the DJ’s burnt all of their copies of “Grease” in protest.

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