Today we take a look back at a time when “excellence in broadcasting” was taken seriously, when personalities mattered and when stars were involved in the making and breaking of a radio station. (WOW! I have just realised how jaded that makes me sound – but it is true!)
I was highly anticipating this documentary from the outset (it was released in Feb this year), and it has taken this long for me to finally get to see it due to geo-blocking (thanks internet!) and “From Worst To First The True Story of Z100” was worth the wait. Not only for the interviews from the people involved and stars like Joan Jett, Jon Bon Jovi and others – so yes, the wait was worth it.
Although we are a long, LONG way away from the USA – at our station we had all heard of Z100, the jocks, the stunts and the gossip and legends about what happened there. One of our jocks had actually visited the station – so it was with great eagerness that 3 jocks, 1 copywriter and some of our management team sat around to watch this one hour doco together during a lunch break.
“Worst To First…” was produced by syndicated Z100 morning man Elvis Duran, David Katz, Trish Hunter Shannon, and John McConnell. They did a great job of pulling together old footage, photos and interviews.
It really is a deep dive and behind the scenes look at the launch of Z100 in August, 1983… and the release of the fall ratings that showed the station at No. 1.
Personally I was eager to see if what I had heard about the promotions and stunts they pulled were true (myth and legend had kind of blurred in the past 40 years so I was eager to set it straight in my mind) and while there was some insightful details about music programming, personality hiring and competition with other stations – what I loved was the passion and the tenacity of the management staff, their listeners, and most importantly… those behind the microphones.
Sure, much of Worst to First is Scott Shannon’s story from buying his first radio to stardom. Scott really was a PD who was “just a little screwed up.” To prove it we are told about Shannon throwing his presentation binder at somebody in his Z100 job interview – this was something that had been earmarked as ‘myth’ to me – but I am glad to see it was true. And he seems to have really been the powerhouse behind it all – so his story is worth telling.
There was also the story of the listeners being told to make an impact after their first survey book came out – and this is what I loved – the listening audience of Z100 where the ones who helped to drive the change and made the station what it was. From bedsheets out of windows saying “From worst to first! I listen to Z100” to paper signs in car windows saying something similar – the power of the people was what I really wanted to know about and wasn’t dissapointed.
The other part of the film that struck me was the music stars who still hold a fondness for Z100. For example, how a young woman would turn up at the station every Tuesday to try to convince Shannon to play her song, and if they would, she would do something big for them when she had made it – that was Madonna, and she paid Z100 back in spades.
“From Worst To First The True Story of Z100” also points out the costs of radio. From personal relationships to business costs – nothing ever happens in isolation, or by osmosis. It takes true showmanship, the connection between the jocks and the listeners, and, the power of blending them all together to get a result.
Overall – “From Worst To First The True Story of Z100” is a great watch. At 1 or 2 minutes over an hour, is really worth your time. There is much here for almost every department (but sadly not us copywriters) but everyone could get something out of this if they work in radio – or did work in radio in the 80s.
It would be nice to think that even today when a station launched, that they would get that kind of attention. It would be great if that was true. But it’s not all blue sky and parties…
Seriously hunt down “From Worst To First The True Story of Z100” and enjoy a trip back in time. It made me wish I was in America, when Z100 launched.
When radio works, it works, and “From Worst To First The True Story of Z100” shows how well it can work. Watch it and enjoy!