Ep 76 SEX AND BROADCASTING with director Tim K Smith
Sup Doc A Documentary Podcast
George spoke with the director of Sex and Broadcasting, Tim K Smith in Los Angeles.
Sex and Broadcasting is a 2014 documentary about New Jersey’s longstanding freeform radio station WFMU, and its struggles to stay afloat. Along the way we encounter Tom Scharpling’s Best Show, The Minutemen, the recession, the Free Music Archive, pragmatic utopias, ant invasions, The Hound, and the singular Ken Freedman who’s made it his life’s mission to keep WFMU on the air. The film also features appearances by Paul F. Tomkins, John Hodgman, Matt Groening, Lee Ranaldo, and Adam Horovitz.
“It’s flypaper for misfits and malcontents.” —Irwin Chusid, WFMU DJ
SEX AND BROADCASTING is a human, and humorous, look at New Jersey’s WFMU, a radio station that refuses any programming boundaries. Most of its disc jockeys are unpaid volunteers, working for their love of surprising, spontaneous radio. They play everything from flat-out uncategorizable strangeness to every form of rock and roll, experimental music, jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop, hand-cranked wax cylinders, gospel, Inuit marching bands, R&B, C&W, radio improvisations, spoken-word collages, and throat singers of the Lower East Side. Their captain is station manager Ken Freedman, who has spent the past three decades keeping WFMU alive, independent, and one of a kind. At 54, Ken has strapped his entire life and family to this crazy station, and it may all soon be a memory.
Since the introduction of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, radio has seen massive corporate consolidation. This has dramatically decreased the diversity of music formats being broadcast nationally and has eliminated many independent and local voices from the public airwaves.
Simultaneously, the rise of algorithmic internet radio models (Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, and Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio) that deliver “automated music recommendations” has tightened the screws on smaller players that attempt to use the internet to bring human-controlled radio to larger audiences. During this time WFMU, through it’s foresight and perseverance, has served as a beacon of hope for those who love music and believe in the importance of truly independent media outlets.
The film weaves personal stories of WFMU’s eccentric DJs with an exploration of the 21st-century media landscape that has made the station such a rarity. As the film unfolds, WFMU reaches a crisis: Ken meets with the board of directors. With six months until their next fundraising marathon, they are almost out of money. Can WFMU stay on the air and stay true to its independent spirit?
SEX AND BROADCASTING fully explores the past and present of this essential, weird, and utterly unique American institution while telling the gripping, yet comical, story of its fight for survival.
Tim K Smith, a 20 year film and TV veteran, started his career serving coffee on Spike Lee’s MALCOLM X and has since worked in every aspect of the filmmaking process. He has spent the last 10 years focusing on his love of documentaries which has included his collaborations as editor of Morgan Spurlock’s COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE, co-producing and editing two films for HBO including the critically acclaimed KEVORKIAN and editing QUEST FOR HONOR, the Oscar short-listed documentary following the plight of Kurdish woman in Iraq. Sex and Broadcasting marks his directorial debut.
You can find Sex And Broadcasting on Netflix, Kanopy, and iTunes. It should be out on DVD in the Spring and it’s also playing at the Seeyousound International Music Film Festival in Turin, Italy.