Radio K.A.O.S.

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Radio K.A.O.S.
Studio album by
Released15 June 1987 (1987-06-15)
RecordedOctober – December 1986
StudioBilliard Room (London)
Roger Waters chronology
When the Wind Blows
Radio K.A.O.S.
The Wall – Live in Berlin
Roger Waters studio chronology
The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
Radio K.A.O.S.
Amused to Death
Singles from Radio K.A.O.S.
  1. "Radio Waves"
    Released: 11 May 1987
  2. "Sunset Strip"
    Released: 12 September 1987
  3. "The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)"
    Released: 16 November 1987
  4. "Who Needs Information"
    Released: 21 December 1987

Radio K.A.O.S. is the second solo studio album by English rock musician Roger Waters. Released on 15 June 1987 in the United Kingdom and June 16 in the United States, it was Waters' first solo studio album after his formal departure from the band Pink Floyd in 1985. Like his previous and future studio albums and many works of his during his time with Pink Floyd, the album is a concept album based on a number of key topical subjects of the late 1980s, including monetarism and its effect on citizens, popular culture of the time, and the events and consequences of the Cold War. It also makes criticisms of Margaret Thatcher's government, much like Pink Floyd's The Final Cut (1983), another album conceived by Waters.

The album follows Billy, a mentally and physically disabled man from Wales, forced to live with his uncle David in Los Angeles after his brother Benny is sent to prison following an act intended to support striking coal miners which results in the death of a taxi driver, and his dismissal from his mining job due to "market forces". The album explores Billy's view of the world through an on-air conversation between him and Jim, a disc jockey (DJ) at a fictitious local radio station named Radio KAOS.

Background and inspiration[edit]

In 1979, Waters met American disc jockey Jim Ladd for a radio documentary on The Wall album, beginning a friendship which remained until Ladd's death in 2023. Ladd was an inspiration as he brought some light into Waters's dim view of L.A. life, initially through listening to the bizarre Fish Report from KMET. Waters became increasingly interested in Ladd's plight with his radio station KMET, and his eventual sacking to change the programming format of the station in search of market-researched profits. In 1985, Waters wrote a song called "Get Back to Radio," which seemed to be partly based on the experiences of Ladd, and partly from childhood memories – Waters fondly remembers listening to Radio Luxembourg well into the night as a child.

An event from the 1985 miners' strike in Britain where a striking worker threw a concrete block off a motorway bridge, killing a taxi driver who was taking a strikebreaker to his job, seemed to register in Waters's subconscious, emerging in the second song written, "Who Needs Information" and later, "Me or Him." The album, with a working title of Home, took only three months to record, developed from 16 songs throughout 1986 and was worked into a now familiar Waters concept album.[1]

The Ronald Reagan campaign advertisements during "Me or Him" are sampled from an actual 1980 political advertisement of Reagan's.[2][3][4]


The popular culture of Los Angeles and the radio industry in the area at the time was the inspiration for the fictional Radio KAOS station that plays a significant role in the album.

Billy is a 23-year-old Welshman from the South Wales Valleys. He is mentally and physically disabled as a result of cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is only able to work his upper body.[5] Though he is perceived as mentally challenged, his disability has actually made him not only a genius, but also superhuman, as he also has the ability to literally hear radio waves throughout all frequencies without aid.[6]

Billy was living with his twin brother Benny, who was a coal miner, wife Molly, and their children. Unfortunately, Benny has lost his job in the mines due to the "market forces." One night, Benny and Billy are out on a pub crawl when they pass a shop full of TV screens broadcasting Margaret Thatcher's "mocking condescension." Benny vents his anger on this shop and steals a cordless phone. Next, in theatrical fashion, Benny poses on a footbridge in protest to the closures; the same night, a taxi driver is killed by a concrete block dropped from a similar bridge by Benny ("Who Needs Information" – track 2). The police question Benny, who hides the phone in Billy's wheelchair.

Benny is taken to prison, and Molly, unable to cope, sends Billy to live with his uncle David in Los Angeles, California, United States. Since Billy can hear radio waves in his head ("Radio Waves" – track 1), he begins to explore the cordless phone, recognising its similarity to a radio. He experiments with the phone and is able to access computers and speech synthesisers, and learns to speak through them. He calls a radio station in L.A. named Radio K.A.O.S. and tells them of his life story about his brother being in jail ("Me or Him" – track 3), about his sister-in-law not being able to cope and sending him to L.A. to live with his uncle Dave ("Sunset Strip" – track 5), and about the closures of the mines ("Powers That Be" – track 4).

Billy eventually hacks into a military satellite and fools the world into thinking nuclear ICBMs are about to be detonated at major cities all over the world while deactivating the military's power to retaliate ("Home" – track 6, and "Four Minutes" – track 7). The album concludes with a song about how everyone, in thinking they were about to die, realises that the fear and competitiveness peddled by the mass media is much less important than their love for family and the larger community. ("The Tide Is Turning" – track 8).

In the sleeve notes, Waters dedicated the album "to all those who find themselves at the violent end of monetarism."


The album was recorded at Waters' own personal studio in London called The Billiard Room and mixed at Odyssey Studios in London.

Recording was done with the aid of Roger Waters' backing band the Bleeding Heart Band.



Morse code is a central theme in the art and style of the album, visually and audibly. The artwork for the album, designed by Kate Hepburn, are written Morse code sentences in green imprinted on a black background. The translation spans both the front and the back of the sleeve. The front cover reads ROGER/WATERS/RADIO/KAOS/WHONE/EDSINF/ORMA/TIONTH. The back cover reads EPOWE/RSTHAT/BEHO/METHETI/DEISTU/RNING/RADIO/WAVES. When translated as a whole, the artwork spells out the name of the artist, the album, and five tracks from the album. It reads: Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S., "Who Needs Information," "The Powers That Be," "Home," "The Tide Is Turning" and "Radio Waves."[7] The code on the artwork is also heard throughout the album itself, most notably at the beginning and end of the album, book-ending the piece in the same manner as the heartbeat from Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and the Bleeding Heart Band from The Wall (1979).


Aside from eight songs that were used on the released album, additional songs appeared as B-sides.

The lead single from the album, "Radio Waves", was released on 11 May 1987 as a 7" single, a 12" extended play single, and a CD single.[8] The b-side was a non-album track called "Going to Live in L.A.". "Radio Waves" briefly went into both the American and British charts in the month of release, reaching No. 74 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.[9]

"Sunset Strip" was released as the second single in September 1987. The B-side included a demo of the song "Get Back to Radio" and a live version of Pink Floyd's "Money". Despite "Sunset Strip" not being released as a promo to American and British radio stations, and competing against Waters's former band whose single "Learning to Fly" was topping the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it managed to go as high as No. 15.[10]

"The Tide Is Turning" was released as the third single in the United Kingdom and Australia.[8] Without direct competition from Waters's former band, Pink Floyd, the single was a commercial success in Europe. It peaked at No. 54 on the UK singles chart.[citation needed]

"Who Needs Information?" was released in the United States in December 1987 as the fourth and final single,[8] backed with the live exclusive "Molly's Song", another previously unreleased song. The single was in direct competition with Pink Floyd's "On the Turning Away". While Pink Floyd's singles topped the US Mainstream Rock charts back to back,[11] "Who Needs Information?" failed to chart, despite a radio promotional release.

Waters even once said in an interview that he might even release an EP with some unreleased songs from this project for those who might be interested,[citation needed] but this never appeared.


The record was first announced via a press release from EMI on 6 April 1987, confirming Waters's new album, its details and release date.[1] The press release mentioned that the project was conceived to be a full-out rock opera, complete with a stage show, film and live album, much like Waters's original vision for the album.

Waters also made a Video EP for this album featuring the songs "Radio Waves," "Sunset Strip," "Fish Report," "Four Minutes" and "The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)."


The Radio K.A.O.S. tour aka K.A.O.S. On the Road ran from mid-August 1987 to the end of November of the same year. It was entirely in North America except for the final two shows from Wembley, England. The tour, the largest of Waters's career up to that point, featured extravagant staging, props and video. The entirety of the concert was presented as a K.A.O.S. radio special, "K.A.O.S. on the Road", and featured disc jockey (DJ) Jim Ladd introducing the songs, conversing with Billy, or simply complimenting Waters and the band on their performance. The screen used for the tour displayed video of Waters, Ladd, and various other actors playing out aspects of the narrative, as well as animations and video illustrating the songs. The concert was 'interrupted' at one point each night by Billy, who played the video to the début Pink Floyd single "Arnold Layne", in remembrance of Syd Barrett.

Prior to each show, Jim Ladd took calls from people in a booth and these calls were then answered by Waters. The person in each booth was usually chosen via a competition on local radio stations, in keeping with the theme of the concert. The setlist included the entire Radio K.A.O.S. album, with popular Waters-composed Pink Floyd songs mixed into the sequence, and typically lasted more than two and a half hours.

The tour went heavily into debt, with Waters using his own money at one point to underwrite the expense, as there were massive overruns and delays. The tour was proposed to go worldwide, but due to financial considerations these discussions never went any further, and the tour ended.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Los Angeles Times[13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[14]
The Village VoiceB[15]
Waters felt a moral disappointment with the album, even going as far as saying he regrets recording it.

Released on 15 June 1987 in the United Kingdom and the United States, the album was met with mixed reviews. It peaked at number 25 in the United Kingdom, 33 in Australia, and 50 in the United States.

J. D. Considine of Rolling Stone magazine gave a positive review, describing the album as "by no means perfect" but "powerful".[16] Although the themes and style of the album were criticized, he deemed it an improvement on its predecessor The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking (1984).[1]

Robert Christgau from The Village Voice wrote: "In which Waters's wheelchair-bound version of the deaf, dumb and blind boy learns to control the world's computers with his cordless phone, then simulates impending nuclear holocaust just to scare the shit out of the powers that be. I have serious reservations about any record that can't be enjoyed unless you sit there reading the inner sleeve, but this is not without its aural rewards — a coverable song or two and some nice comping on shakuhachi, as well as the deep engineering that made Floyd famous. As pretentious goes, not stupid."[15]

Waters has since expressed dislike for the album and the effort of creating it.[1] "Between Ian Ritchie and myself, we really fucked that record up," he remarked. "We tried too hard to make it sound modern. Also, the part where Billy pretends that he's just started the Third World War I now find faintly embarrassing. And I dislike the backing vocals on 'The Tide Is Turning'."[17]

In addition to being dissatisfied with the production, Waters regretted trimming the album from a double to a single one, thus losing much of the concept.[18]

In a retrospective review, Mike DeGagne of AllMusic gave the album three-and-a-half stars, stating that, unlike some of Waters's other works, it conveys the music more than the narrative, but "while both The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking and Amused to Death convey his talented use of concept, imagination, and lyrical mastery, this album seems to be nothing more than a fictional tale with a blatantly apparent message".[12]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Roger Waters

1."Radio Waves"4:58
2."Who Needs Information"5:55
3."Me or Him"5:23
4."The Powers That Be"4:36
5."Sunset Strip"4:45
7."Four Minutes"4:00
8."The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)"5:43
Total length:41:24

Columbia Records Original 1987 Vinyl Record Pressing

Side one (KAOS 1 A)
1."Radio Waves"5:05
2."Who Needs Information"5:49
3."Me or Him"5:24
4."The Powers That Be" (Song ends with dog barking three times)4:03
Total length:20:21
Side two (KAOS 1 B)
1."Sunset Strip" (Three barks and radio broadcast start the song on this release)4:03
3."Four Minutes"3:39
4."The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)"5:44
Total length:20:25


Credits are adapted from the Radio K.A.O.S. liner notes.[19]


Chart (1987) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[21] 33
UK Albums Chart 25
US Billboard 200[22] 50

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label Catalog no.
Argentina[1] 15 June 1987 LP Columbia Records 120,935
Australia[23] LP, CD CBS Records 450518 1 (LP)
450518 2 (CD)
Brazil[23] 230,506 (LP)
2 040795 (CD)
Canada[23] Columbia Records FC 40795 (LP)
VCK-40795 (CD)
France[23] EMI 2407831 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
West Germany[23] 064 24 0783 1 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Greece[23] 062-240783 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Israel[23] LP Columbia Records KAOS 1-1
Italy[23] LP, CD EMI 64-2407831 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Japan[23] LP CBS Records / Sony Records 28 AP 3361
New Zealand[23] LP, CD CBS Records 450518 1 (LP)
450518 2 (CD)
South Africa[1] LP CBS Records ASF 3161
Spain[23] LP, CD EMI 074 240783 1(LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Turkey[1] LP KENT PR 2215
United Kingdom[1][23] LP, CD, Cassette EMI KAOS 1 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
United States[1][23] LP, CD Columbia Records FC 40795 (LP)
CK 40795 (CD)
Yugoslavia[23] Jugoton, EMI 11170 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
CAEMI 9263 (MC)
Worldwide[24] 10 January 2003 Digital download EMI, Columbia n/a
Europe[25] 14 January 2003 CD Columbia Records 509591 2
Japan[26] 1 March 2005 Sony Music Entertainment Japan MHCP 692


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  3. ^ "Hulu". Hulu. Archived from the original on 28 May 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
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  6. ^ "Radio Waves". Radio K.A.O.S. EMI (United Kingdom), Columbia Records (United States). {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. ^ "Java Morse Code Translator". Archived from the original on 14 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
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  11. ^ "Pink Floyd – Awards". Artist Awards. Allmusic. Archived from the original on 7 April 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  12. ^ a b DeGagne, Mike. Album review at AllMusic. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  13. ^ Willman, Chris (28 June 1987). "Waters Widens Target". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  14. ^ Cross, Charles R. (2004). "Roger Waters". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 864. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  15. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (29 December 1987). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 14 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  16. ^ "Roger Waters : Radio K.A.O.S." Rolling Stone. 16 July 1987. Archived from the original on 21 June 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  17. ^ Blake, Mark (1992). "Still Waters". RCD. Vol. 1, no. 3. p. 57.
  18. ^ "Roger Waters Biography - Pink Floyd Online - Comprehensive and Interactive Pink Floyd Fan Site". Archived from the original on 14 July 2019. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  19. ^ Radio K.A.O.S. (CD booklet). Roger Waters. EMI. 1987.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  20. ^ Miles, Barry; Mabbett, Andy (1994). Pink Floyd – The Visual Documentary. London: Omnibus. ISBN 0-7119-4109-2.
  21. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 334. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  22. ^ "Roger Waters – Chart History". Artists. Billboard. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Radio K.A.O.S." Roger Waters Discography. Discogs. 26 September 1987. Archived from the original on 4 March 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  24. ^ "Radio K.A.O.S." Amazon music. Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  25. ^ "Roger Waters – Radio K.A.O.S. (CD)". CD universe. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  26. ^ "Radio K.A.O.S." Roger Waters Discography. Discogs. 18 May 2005. Archived from the original on 23 September 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2013.

External links[edit]