Talk Radio (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Talk Radio
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Oliver Stone
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Talk Radio
by Eric Bogosian
Ted Savinar
Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg
by Stephen Singular
Music by Stewart Copeland
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Edited by
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • December 21, 1988 (1988-12-21) (U.S.)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $3,468,572

Talk Radio is a 1988 American drama film, starring Eric Bogosian, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Greene, and Leslie Hope. Directed by Oliver Stone, the film was based on the play by Bogosian and Tad Savinar. Portions of the film and play were based on the assassination of radio host Alan Berg in 1984 and the book Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg by Stephen Singular. The film was entered into the 39th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Barry Champlain, a Jewish radio personality in Dallas, Texas, is a host with a caustic sense of humor and a knack for cutting people down with his controversial politically liberal views.

Champlain's radio show is about to go nationwide. A former suit salesman, he achieves his rise to fame through guest shots on the Jeff Fisher radio show. Barry begins to steal the show with his sense of humor and sharp wit, which aggravates Fisher. Barry is subsequently given his own show which rises to the top of the Arbitron radio ratings. Barry has a substantial number of hostile callers trying to intimidate him and sometimes receives threatening fan mail, such as when one caller makes a bomb threat. His rise to fame is accompanied not only with attention from radical elements, but also with the alienation of his wife.

As his show is going through a final audition to go into national syndication, Barry asks his ex-wife, Ellen to come and visit him as he needs her input as the only person he can trust. They attempt a return to their relationship. Barry receives calls from people who appreciate him for what he does and how he does it as well as people who seem to hate him. He confesses his sins over the radio, and that he also confesses that the American people scare him because of what has happened to his friends, family, and co-workers. Using a fake name and calling from the radio studio, Ellen calls Barry on the air—the only place he seems to relate to people openly—to attempt to reach him, to bring him back from the depression he seems to be suffering and begs for him to come back, but Barry refuses and tells her that he will be all right from now on, he belittles her on the call as the radio production staff, all friends of Ellen, watch in horror; Ellen walks away. His co-workers tell him it's now the highest rated segment. Barry's boss congratulates him on a job well done and says that the show is definitely going to go national.

While walking to his car, a fan asks for his autograph; as Barry signs it, the fan pulls out a gun and shoots him several times. As the film ends, callers to Barry's show speak on air about him, some say that America didn't mean to kill Barry, but they begin to realize that he pushed one of his fans too far.


Eric Bogosian wrote the screenplay with help from director Oliver Stone. The script was almost entirely based on Bogosian's original play with some biographical information about Alan Berg, a talk show host in Denver who was murdered in 1984 by white supremacists. In his research for the film version, Bogosian often watched the on-air production of Tom Leykis' talk show, then originating from Los Angeles station KFI. Bogosian's fictional character shares many speech patterns and mannerisms with real-life talker Leykis.[2]

Filming took place mostly in Dallas, Texas and Irving, Texas. Unlike the film, the original play takes place entirely during the on-air broadcast and there are no scenes outside the radio station.



Talk Radio received mostly positive reviews from critics and holds an 82% fresh rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 44 reviews.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

Parts of the film have been sampled by many bands.

Barry's enthusiastic "Hooooo-oyy!" outcry mocking a caller's Southern accent was used prominently in the 1990 Revolting Cocks song "Beers, Steers, and Queers".

The conversation over the air with "Ralph" while Michael Wincott's character "Kent" enters the studio consisting of "Something is wrong... like nobody's driving the train. The system... there's too many people getting sick" was used by the California punk band Lagwagon on the album Blaze.

The anecdote that Barry provides about "...a little dog trotting over this bridge" was used by the New York hardcore band Most Precious Blood in their song "Oxygen Debt" on their album Merciless.

The radio tower featured at the end of the film is used by KDFW, a local television station. At the time of filming, KDFW was a CBS affiliate; however, it has since become a FOX affiliate.

The end theme is "Telephone and Rubber Band" by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

Sound clips from the film were used by sound collage group Negativland in a December 1991 episode of their weekly Over the Edge program, "Radio Wars". Clips were also used in a series of Radio sweepers for Australian radio station 3RRR during the early to mid 1990s.

See also[edit]


  • Rossi, Umberto. “Acousmatic Presences: From DJs to Talk-Radio Hosts in American Fiction, Cinema, and Drama”, Mosaic, 42:1, March 2009, pp. 83–98.

External links[edit]