The title is taken from a book written by the subject, “Playing in the FM Band: The Steve Post Story” commemorates Post, a New York radio personality who, according to the film, helped define what came to be known as free radio. – a kind of programming without a strict format, in which the DJ chooses the music and riffs to whatever they want, often asking for responses from the listeners – starting with the FM station WBAI in the late 1960s.
The documentary introduces him as a pioneer, but struggles to establish why he was unique. We hear he was influenced by Jean Shepherd, the radio personality whose wry stories brought him fame in the 1950s. Sure enough, sometimes Post sounds a lot like Shepherd. Early in the film, director Rosemarie Reed chooses to emphasize Post’s humor by playing a skit that Post did with the character actor Marshall Efron, in which Efron imitates a swami and speaks with a downright offensive accent. As the audio runs, Reed presents images of statues that appear to depict South Asian gods.
These shots, like those of the talking heads of colleagues and friends talking about Post, are shrouded in a black that seems ready to swallow the entire film. The lyrics of the film are white on the same shade of black. This visual mode makes the film dull, a condition that is not improved by the introduction of animated sequences illustrating Post’s stories. Combine that with poor story organization, and you’ve got a movie that’s hard to get through.
“Playing” grabs onto some interesting grooves in the last twenty minutes. Descriptions of how great Post was during radio station pledges are intriguing, and a story of how Post ended up on a ledge on the 39th floor in the middle of a broadcast is chilling.
Playing in the FM Band: The Steve Post Story
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theatres.