Talk Radio casts a spotlight on the unpalatable underside of American public opinion, and turns up an unlimited supply of anger, hatred and resentment in the process.
Known in theatrical circles as a monologist and performance artist, Eric Bogosian debuted the initial incarnation of Talk Radio in Portland, Ore, in 1985. For the screenplay, he and director Oliver Stone worked in material relating to Alan Berg, the Denver talkshow host murdered by neo-Nazis in 1984, and also created a flashback to illuminate their antihero’s personal background and beginnings in the radio game.
Most of the film, however, unfolds in the modern studio of KGAB, a Dallas station from which the infamous Barry Champlain (Bogosian) holds forth. Young, caustic, rude, insulting, grandstanding, flippant and mercilessly cruel, the talkshow host spews vitriol impartially on those of all races, colors and creeds and spares the feelings of no one.
Champlain draws out the nighttime’s seamiest denizens from under their rocks, fringe characters with access to the airwaves.
A dramatic structure has been imposed on the proceedings by the arrival of a radio syndicator who wants to take Champlain’s show nationwide. At the same time, Champlain’s ex-wife Ellen (Ellen Greene) arrives in town, which occasions a look back at the man’s origins.
Bogosian commands attention in a patented tour-de-force. Supporting performances are all vividly realized, notably Michael Wincott’s drug-crazed Champlain fan invited to the studio for a tete-a-tete with the host.