Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Radio Unnameable (Review)

Growing up in Hackettstown, NJ, home of WNTI Centenary College’s Free From radio station and having been influenced by and even performed on one of the few existing free form stations out there makes me a big ol’ softie for Radio Unnamable. Not that this film needs my sympathy. Radio Unnameable is a look back at the pioneering effort of the great DJ Bob Fass who was the voice (or at least the sounding board) of the 60’s political revolution, who provided a platform for everyone and no one as well as an innovator in what rock could be in much the same way that Alan Freed did for Rock N’ Roll and Blues (until Freed got greedy and busted of course). Radio Unnamable is a fantastic documentary that focuses on the rise and fall of a Fass with colorful interviews as well as outtakes from Fass’s show, Radio Unnameable.

Synopsis from Kino:

Legendary radio personality Bob Fass revolutionized the FM airwaves in the 1960s and '70s with his free-form program Radio Unnameable, a cultural hub for music, politics, and audience engagement.

For nearly 50 years, he has been heard at midnight on New York City listener-sponsored station WBAI, utilizing the airwaves for mobilization long before today's innovations in social media. Drawing from Fass's extraordinary personal archive of audio recordings, including interviews with Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman, and performances by Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Carly Simon, Radio Unnameable celebrates the profoundly influential career of one of radio's unsung heroes.


Normally I don’t tackle much outside the Horror genre for reviews, but when I saw the press release for this documentary I knew it fit into our theme at DOCTERROR. The concept of free expression and allowing folks to have a voice outside of the popular conception of a thing is exactly what we’re about. Bob Fass allowed the unpopular opinions of his day to settle to the top of your stereo speakers to be heard. Gradually the audience would find that the opinions of folks like Abby Hoffman and company weren’t so unpopular after all. Radio Unnameable was a way to report the news, as it happened without the congestion or censor of network television or radio to distort and toe the line of the big bureaucratic government machine. There’s a machine in horror too that you have to watch out for. It’s insidious and squeezes the original thought right out of filmmakers and creates mindless regurgitators out of horror fiends. Sometimes we need to wake up and watch a movie or two, low budget, no budget, outside our comfort zone and on the fringe. Give the other side a horror a chance to work (all sides a voice).

While I’m new to the program Radio Unnameable itself. I’m not so knew to the concept of Free Form radio, and I know how important the concept is to broaden minds and present new concepts to listeners who might not see the other side of a cable news network. Growing up I’d listen to WNTI in Hackettstown and WSOU, Seton Hall’s Pirate Radio, an eclectic metal station that played the radio unfriendly tunes of an angry youth culture. I remember what it was like to have a new, local band be played right alongside Bruce Springsteen or the Beatles or Slayer even. Each show was unique and presented meaningful conversation about music and about life and provided a broader scope for in which the music exists. That’s what Radio Unameable helped to create and, though I arrive a bit too late to enjoy Bob Fass’s program, I have enjoyed the fruits of his labor. Radio beyond music and beyond the booming voice of bellicose DJ’s as personalities rather than people.

Fans of counterculture anything will love this as well as fans of the early days of Rock N’ Roll and especially the Rock of the late 60’s. I had no idea that Arlo Guthrie premiered Alice’s Restaurant to Bob Fass. If that’s the kind of information you want in your skull, this is the documentary for you. This is the spirit of radio that Rush was singing about. Not just the music of radio, but the conception of your voice reaching to infinity with infinite possibilities. See how infinity begins.

You can pick up Radio Unnameable from Kino Lorber.


1 comment:

  1. Ralph Drake/Program director from 1993 untill 1994October 31, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Nice page and comments about the old (Pre 2003) WNTI.....we loved the listeners as much as you loved us.