It’s not long ago that some of the media enthusiasts took the concept of ‘broadcasting excellence’ seriously. It was enough of Rush Limbaugh and his fans that there was a 2010 episode of “Family Guy” sending it in — with Limbaugh even taking part. While the phrase never really comes up in “Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York,” the film feels inspired by the concept.
The documentary, directed by Mitchell Stuart, tells the story of one of the last FM radio sensations in New York – who wasn’t even in New York. The station’s studio—bought by Milton Maltz from Cleveland-based Malrite Communications in 1983—was located in scenic Secaucus, NJ Free-form FM radio was gone, Album Oriented Rock FM radio was on life support and AM- radio embraced talk, so the new Z100 went to a Top 40 format. Known for his semi-gonzo style, DJ and program director Scott Shannon came from Florida to pilot the ship.
There’s some nice stuff here about how the station’s chief engineer managed to make the Z100 louder than other stations on the dial. A handful of rock stars (Jon Bon Jovi, Joan Jett) talk about how wonderful it was to hear their songs on the radio. Shannon herself tells a few mildly entertaining stories. But the film’s on-screen prefab graphics are just one reason why “Worst to First” has such a slack tone overall.
Some Z100 veterans tell a story about Madonna wandering the station lobby in the early 1980s in return for airplay for her first single. She may consider her debt paid in full for not showing up here for another interview.
Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 4 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV providers.