Saturday, February 12, 2022

Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York

It only made sense that radio in the 1980s would be as fun as the rest of the pop culture that decade. Scott Shannon was the first programmer/presenter to really figure that out and the New York radio station that hired him is still reaping the benefits of his top-40 “Morning Zoo” tenure. Director-writer-producer Mitchell Stuart chronicles the rise, with no subsequent fall, of the radio ratings juggernaut in Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York, which is now available on VOD.

You can’t beat 1980s nostalgia, even if you weren’t there for it at the time. Of course, Z100 is still a big name in the New York media landscape, but you have to wonder if anyone Millennial-age or younger really gets the influence radio used to have breaking new songs and artists. In this case, Shannon came to Z100 right when mega-stars like Madonna were poised to hit it big.

Worst to First is almost more of a documentary about Shannon than Z100. Maybe it should have been, so Stuart could have covered Shannon’s rivalry with Don Imus when they were both VH1 VJs and his work as the announcer for Sean Hannity’s radio show. He outlasted a lot of his contemporaries, maintaining high-profile on-air gigs in the New York market and in national syndication.

Stuart recruited an eclectic assembly of talking heads to discuss Z100’s influence, including Clive Davis (you can’t get anymore real than him), Jon Bon Jovi, Joan Jett, Taylor Dayne, Debbie Gibson, Tony Orlando (Z100’s first on-air guest), Geraldo Rivera (who needs no introduction), radio talk-show host Joe Piscopo, and Shannon’s Z100 successor Elvis Duran. It definitely gives a flavor of the era. By focusing on some overlooked pop culture history, it nicely compliments docs like
I Want My MTV and The Orange Years.

However, the sixty-three-minute running time feels conspicuously brief. It wraps up rather suddenly and clearly glosses over many years of station history (and Shannon’s too). Regardless, it takes us back to a time when Howard Stern advocated free speech rather than opposed it and Imus was considered the thinking man’s “shock jock.” Really kids, that’s true. That is why it is good to have this slice of media history recorded for posterity. Recommended as a short, economical 1980s flashback,
Worst to First is now available on VOD.