'Pirate Radio' Capsizes From Lack of Weight

"Pirate Radio," in theaters now, is a silly and inconsequential movie that represents a missed opportunity to show the negative impacts of government overreaching into what should be a private enterprise. In this instance, British government bureaucrats stymie a broadcast outlet for rock music in the mid-1960s.

The film is set in the North Sea waters off the coast of England in 1966 and 1967, which were watershed years for rock'n'roll as The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, the Small Faces and a plethora of British and American acts were exploring sonic and artistic breakthroughs. Unfortunately for Britain, however, the state-controlled BBC - the only licensed radio in the United Kingdom - only played 20 minutes of rock music each day.

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As a result, pop music fans had to rely on broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg or from ships anchored in international waters - thereby generating a large audience for new music and creating a market for advertisers eager to capture young mod listeners. Readers seeking a reasonable facsimile of what real pirate radio might've sounded like should buy a copy of The Who's 1967 masterpiece, "The Who Sell Out," which is complete with radio drop-ins, station jingles, advertisements and killer tunes.

Rather than focusing on how governments can overreach beyond their justifiable role in regulating, among other things, broadcast frequencies for radio stations, "Pirate Radio" succumbs to the cinematic credo of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll while simplistically depicting its government antagonists (including actors Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport, the latter sophomorically given an obscene name,) as driven by nothing more complicated than sexual repression and inexperience with chemical inebriants. In the meantime, the radio disc jockeys and their hangers-on party like rock stars in between ponderous pronouncements that the music they play - rather than the innate human need for creative freedom and the liberty to express it espoused therein - represents their primary reason for being.

One last cavil: One doesn't have to be a boater, former disc jockey or even editor of a science magazine to know that it's impossible to play vinyl records on a choppy sea, especially when a boat is three-quarters submerged. While this might guarantee more songs to market on a bestselling soundtrack - despite the inclusion of many songs that were released well after the 1966-67 timeframe - the film as a whole leaves a free-market, small-government advocate with little to appreciate.