8 great radio DJs and presenters in the movies

The movies and radio crossover, as we pick some of the finest DJs and presenters to grace the big screen...

Radio doesn’t often provide the basis for a good movie, but in the eight films that follow, you’ll find some of the presenters you just wish you could find on the airwaves…

Play Misty For Me

Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut puts him in the hot seat as a late night DJ who has a brief moment or two with Jessica Walter’s Evelyn, who rings up wanted him to “Play Misty for me”. But before you can say bunny boiler, she turns into the stalker from hell, and from the isolation of the radio studio, Eastwood’s character suddenly looks very, very vulnerable.

It’s a remarkably confident debut behind the camera, and stands up as an excellent if slightly dated thriller. Walters is particularly excellent, and to this day, if any radio DJ gets a request through for the song Misty, it’s generally regarded as a good time to get security in…

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Good Morning, Vietnam

Robin Williams has headed to the radio studio since his breakthrough role, in the quiet and underappreciated The Night Listener. But it’s his outstanding performance as Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam that firmly put him on the map.

The film around him is strong, too, albeit a little flabby, yet this is concentrated Robin Williams without the schmaltz that would regularly be sprinkled over many of his subsequent films. He’s got so many killer lines in the film – about a DJ sent in to raise American morale during the Vietnam war – that it’s almost unfair to pick them out (“It’s 0-600 hours. What does the 0 stand for? Oh my God, it’s early!”) Defying convention and giving a performance he’s rarely topped, knowing that another Williams burst might be round the corner fuels the film even in its slower moments.

We can’t mention Good Morning, Vietnam without tipping the hat to the marvellous, late Bruno Kirby either (“You are in more dire need of a blowjob than any white man in history,” Williams fires at him). When Kirby takes the air in Cronauer’s place, it’s a festival of cringe-inducing comedy gold.

The Truth About Cats And Dogs

Janeane Garofalo stars in this one as the radio phone host who presents a show about veterinary issues. She’s great too, for the time we’re allowed to see her at work in the radio studio.

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However, the film itself is actually a fairly unconventional and really very good romantic comedy, where she persuades Uma Thurman to pretend to be her, when one of her male callers decides he wants to meet her for real. Well worth seeking out.

Straight Talk

If you want a radio agony aunt to cut to the chase, then it’s not a bad idea to call in Dolly Parton. She’s hardly Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer, but as the small town woman in the big city, she dishes out her own style of advice on a problem show, and soon becomes a bit of a sensation.

For some contrived plot reason, the Chicago radio station in question orders her to call herself a Doctor, which gives the film some narrative fumbling around. But when Parton hits the airwaves, the film manages to gel.

Private Parts

This one’s a bit of a cheat, as it’s the biopic of US shock-jock Howard Stern, albeit with Howard Stern in it. It’s also breathtakingly funny at times, regularly outrageously offensive, and Stern is clearly having the time of his life here. Look out too for an early appearance by Paul Giamatti, here playing the gloriously titled Pig Vomit. And the scene where Stern coaxes a young woman to, er, ‘happiness’ perfectly defines the marriage of shock and laughs on offer here.

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Talk Radio

Films about shock-jocks don’t come round too often, and in the film canon of Oliver Stone, Talk Radio doesn’t seem to get mentioned very often. But it absolutely should. Starring Eric Bogosian (who, bizarrely, turned up as the villain in Under Siege 2) and based on his play, Talk Radio is the tale of acid-tongued talk show host Barry Champlain who presents a controversial late night Dallas programme. Yet just as his show is about to get a national airing, a collection of problems arise, not least a group of people who are offended by what Bogosian has to say on the air (“How do you dial a phone with a straitjacket on?”, he fires at one caller.)

It’s a terrific and quite complicated central performance from Bogosian too, and while the film follows the path you probably expect, few big screen radio DJs can measure up to his.

Pump Up The Volume

If you’re looking for a film about pirate radio, then it seems that avoiding Richard Curtis’ recent The Boat That Rocked would be a wise plan. But it’s certainly worth seeking out Allan Moyle’s excellent early 90s flick, Pump Up The Volume. It stars Christian Slater as the quiet, shy student by day, who transforms himself into pirate radio DJ Happy Harry Hard On by night. Upsetting the authorities – including his parents, who are blissfully unaware of what he’s up to – Harry plays a killer selection of tunes, and happily incites rebellion among his fellow students. “Talk hard,” he says. And he does…

The Fisher King

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This time, Robin Williams isn’t the man behind the microphone, with that honour to Jeff Bridges. He plays the radio DJ here, by the name of Jack Lucas. But Lucas’ life hits the skids when one of his broadcasts incites a man to kill lots of people in a club, leaving Lucas on the brink of suicide. That’s where Robin Williams comes in, in a film that’s both charming and wonderfully original. Lucas decides that he must help Williams’ homeless ex-professor track down the Holy Grail, and – complete with a terrific scene in the midst of New York’s Union Station – the end result is really something quite special.

See also:A Prairie Home CompanionAirheadsTalk To MeRadio Days

With thanks to Duncan Barkes and Will Batchelor at City Talk 105.9 in Liverpool.

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