Having grown up on Long Island in the 80s, I was an avid fan of the now defunct radio station WLIR 92.7 FM (and its subsequent doppelganger WDRE). Back then there was no internet, so we relied on the radio as our discovery engine.
At the time, I took for granted that I had access to a commercial radio station that opened me to a new world of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, The Clash, The Smiths, U2, the B-52s, the Ramones, REM and too many others to mention.
I can fondly recall attending my first “real” concert at Jones Beach Theater with headliner Howard Jones. (Where did I hear HoJo first? WLIR, of course.
Way before his ballad “No One is to Blame” became a Top 40 radio hit.) I also devoured magazines like Star Hits and its UK sister magazine Smash Hits to read more about these new acts.
So, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that a documentary about WLIR was in the works (through a Facebook community I joined a few years ago for middle aged hipsters who longed for the days of WLIR/WDRE). The film, after 7 years of production, was finally released last week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Dare to Be Different, gets its name from the marketing slogan for the station and for the most part does not disappoint. First time director and WLIR superfan Ellen Goldfarb traces the story of the Hempstead, NY radio station and its visionary program director, Denis McNamara, who in 1982 decided to go for a “new music” format. WLIR had nothing to lose, being a scrappy low wattage station trying to forge an identity among album oriented rock stations that flooded the NYC area airwaves with much higher reach.
The documentary features interviews with music industry types (Sire Records’ Seymour Stein), WLIR DJ’s (Larry the Duck, Malibu Sue, Donna Donna), interns (Gary from the Howard Stern Show!), listeners and the artists discussing the impact of WLIR, whether personally or professionally.
Among that list of artists, you may recognize Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran (who played their first US gig on Long Island thanks to WLIR), Howard Jones, Billy Idol, Live Aid co-founder Midge Ure, Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins, Curt Smith of Tears for Fears, Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, Deborah Harry of Blondie, Fred Schneider of the B-52s, and Joan Jett, who wrote a theme song just for the movie called what else, “Dare to Be Different.”
Many themes are explored in the documentary (which could all be their own movies) including women in rock, art vs. commerce, political activism, crazy 80s style (the hairspray!), the legacy of 80s music, the spirit of discovery vs. corporate ownership and ultimately the legal and federal regulation issues that brought WLIR to an end in December 1987.
However, one theme rings loud and clear, by “daring to be different” WLIR had a huge impact on the music industry, breaking great acts that may have otherwise never gotten a larger audience nor sold millions of records.
This fun, nostalgic trip has one small issue. It omits any mention of WDRE, even in the post script. WDRE, while under separate ownership, came on the air the following day and carried on the tradition of WLIR’s commitment to new music and even retained some of its popular DJs into the early aughts. Yet, the film’s narrative claims that there was a void that could never be filled again.
As a loyal Dare card carrying listener, I was sad that WLIR as we knew it was no more, but WDRE filled the void even as New Wave went out of style and was replaced by the grunge of the Pacific NW. However, WDRE never quite matched the golden years of 1982-1987, perhaps why Goldfarb chose to omit it from the story.
In a post screening Q&A, Goldfarb mentioned that there might be a soundtrack released as well as a companion book where she could include the 200 hours of footage and interviews that didn’t make it into the 90 minute film. Clearly, 30 years on, there is still a hunger for the kind of organic discovery that WLIR gave many fans in the 80s.
Andrea Goldstein is a
professional with a passion
for all things ‘80s.
She can be reached at
@nydigitalmarket on Twitter.
Excellent review, but one minor critique -- please use a different font, other than Comic Sans, it's distracting.ReplyDelete
As someone who loves Long Island and WLIR, I enjoyed this immensely and think every Long Islander should read this.ReplyDelete