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Film / Talk Radio

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Talk Radio is a 1988 film by Oliver Stone, adapted from a play of the same name by Eric Bogosian and Tad Savinar. It is a drama which is loosely based on the 1984 murder of Denver talk radio personality Alan Berg by white supremacists.

Barry Champlain (Bogosian) is a caustic, confrontational shock jock who revels in condescending to his listeners. The story unfolds over the course of a single broadcast, as his show is about to be picked up for national syndication. Yet despite his sense of humor and imminent success, Barry is depressed and isolated from his loved ones. And he plans to continue his pattern of self-destruction by subjecting his fans to a marathon of abuse.


  • Adaptation Expansion: The original play features no scenes set outside the radio station. The movie adds in the various flashbacks of Barry's initial success and his marriage dissolving to show how he shaped himself into a caustic pundit.
  • Bait-and-Switch: While talking to a Neo-Nazi on the air, Barry tells a very sincere story about visiting the site of a concentration camp and finding a Star of David pendant that maybe belonged to a young boy, and that he kept it and holds it to try to give himself some of that boy's courage. Just when it seems he's finally being honest, the camera pans down and shows Barry's desk has no pendant and he's holding a coffee mug.
  • Cowardice Callout: Among the long list of things Barry Champlain calls his show's listeners out on, he compares them to Nightmare Fetishist children who are obsessed with hearing about the nastiest things in the world but don't have the spine to face them without being hand-guided by a talk show host like himself, and he calls them spineless towards the end.
  • Death by Adaptation: Borderline. The stage play takes place entirely in the studio and doesn't actually depict Champlain being killed. The therapist's description of a disturbed man in the street could be seen as a bad omen, though.
  • Downer Ending: Just as Barry's show is chosen to go national, he's shot dead by an extremist caller in the station parking lot.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Events unfold over the course of one four-hour radio show.
  • The Hero Dies: Both the play and the film end with Barry being assassinated.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Pretty much the message of Barry's show, which he blames on his own listeners:
    Barry: This country is in deep trouble, people! This country is rotten to the core and somebody better do something about it!
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The film is officially an adaptation of both Bogosian's play and a True Crime book about Alan Berg's murder (Talked to Death by Stephen Singular), and practically all of the biographical details about Barry Champlain (his having been a clothing store owner before being urged to try radio by another talk show host, his failed marriage, his dissolute personal life) were taken directly from Berg's life story.
  • Shock Jock: Barry's on-air personality is defined by his confrontational nature, and he frequently attacks callers whether they are (and because they are) gay, black, or neo-Nazis.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: By the end, Barry can no longer hide his contempt for his show's audience, and launches into an epic monologue, blasting them for all of their faults.
    Barry Champlain: You're on me every night like a pack of wolves because you can't stand facing what you are and what you've made! Yes, the world is a terrible place. Yes, cancer and garbage disposals will get you. Yes, a war is coming. Yes, the world is shot to hell and you're all goners. Everything's screwed up and you like it that way, don't you? You're fascinated by the gory details. You're mesmerized by your own fear. You revel in floods and car accidents, unstoppable diseases. You're happiest when others are in pain. That's where I come in, isn't it? I'm here to lead you by the hand through the dark forest of your own hatred and anger and humiliation. I'm providing a public service. You're so scared. You're like a little child under the covers. You're afraid of the boogeyman but you can't live without him. Your fear — your own lives — have become your entertainment. Next month, millions of people are going to be listening to this show and you'll have nothing to talk about! Marvelous technology is at our disposal, and instead of reaching up to new heights, we're gonna see how far down we can go! How deep into the muck we can immerse ourselves? What do you wanna talk about, hmm? Baseball scores? Your pet? Orgasms? You're pathetic. I despise each and every one of you. You've got nothing, absolutely nothing. No brains, no power, no future, no hope, no God. The only thing you believe in is me. What are you if you don't have me? I'm not afraid see. I come in here every night, I make my case, I make my point, I say what I believe in. I tell you what you are — I have to, I have no choice! You frighten me! I come in here every night, I tear into you, I abuse you, I insult you, you just keep coming back for more! What's wrong with you, why do you keep calling? I don't wanna hear anymore, stop talking! Go away!
  • Reluctant Psycho: One of Barry's callers, John, is a serial rapist deeply horrified by his inability to control his own urges to rape women.
  • The Stoner: Kent, the goofy teen metalhead caller that Barry invites to join him in the studio.
    Barry: Are you high right now, Kent?
    Kent: (nervous giggle) Am I high?
    Barry: Are you on drugs, or is this your naturally moronic self?
  • Villain Protagonist: No matter how you slice it, Barry Champlain is not a nice guy, and actually closer to a true villain instead of a classic Anti-Hero. He's rude, sarcastic, egotistical, opportunistic, and more about getting himself famous by exposing America's paranoid underbelly than actually trying to fix the problems he rails against. He even fully admits to it in his closing monologue:
    Barry Champlain: I should hang; I'm a hypocrite. I ask for sincerity, and I lie. I denounce the system as I embrace it. I want money and power and prestige: I want ratings and success. And I don't give a damn about you, or the world. That's the truth: for that I could say I'm sorry, but I won't. Why should I?