The Clash. Talking Heads. The Ramones. Blondie. The Smiths. Adam Ant. Echo and the Bunnymen. These are just some of the artists mentioned at the top of the documentary New Wave: Dare to Be Different, all of which American FM radio station WLIR claim to have launched to notoriety.
Those who worked at the rural Long Island station tell of how, when they joined, it was a ramshackle station with outdated equipment and played mainly middle-of-the-road music. In the early seventies, almost in response to the changes in attitudes at the time, WLIR switched to playing progressive rock.
DJs started playing then-underground artists, but who would soon gained popularity and would go on to become the pillars of the music world they are today. U2 is one band in particular who saw their profile grow after receiving more airtime on WLIR, and would later thank the station on-stage while playing at Nassau Coliseum.
WLIR was a trailblazer in many ways: it imported records from the UK, launching a number of British artists in the States. It started its own Reggae show, a genre of music not played on commercial American radio at the time. Where elsewhere in the USA Live Aid was shown and played edited, WLIR broadcast it live from London. This was particularly important to the station, as the concert featured a lot of artists they had championed.
Showing a genuine love of the music they played, and introducing so many people to artists they loved, the station would go on to be a star, selling out shows at Madison Square Garden, before its sudden death in the late nineties, fittingly at the hands of the man.
New Wave uses original broadcast clips and gathers plenty of interviews with WLIR fans, original staff and DJs, including Dennis McNamara, John DeBella and Donna Donna. Also interviewed are artists including Billy Idol, Debby Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult, who all tell of how important the station was for giving them more exposure.
Music producers, such as Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, talk about the influence WLIR had on record sales, and how coveted it was to be named the station’s ‘Screamer of the Week’ (most requested song).
British musicians including Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, Midge Ure of Ultravoxx and Howard Jones say how WLIR helped open the door to bigger markets and audiences for them, as British radio at the time was dominated by hits.
Female artists, such as Joan Jett, tell of how having their music played on WLIR helped to break the stigma of women not being able to rock. While those who heard their music tell of how it inspired them to get into rock themselves.
New Wave: Dare to Be Different can be very giddy and exciting, but with no real twists in the tale, or any really memorable moments, the film does start to drag after a while, especially once it passes the hour mark. It can also become quite overly reverent on its subject matter, which can become wearisome.
That said, director Ellen Goldfrab’s has left no stone unturned in creating an extensive document on this little-known by significant piece of music history. The film does well to give a feeling being there at the time, and makes a compelling case for how radio connects listeners to music.
Fans of music will be right at home withNew Wave: Dare to Be Different‘s affectionate look back at an exciting time.