Radio Unnameable: Experimental Radio as Twitter's Grandfather
This is one—and probably the more rewarding—way of looking at the subject of this documentary, Radio Unnameable, a New York City public-radio program that had its moment in the sun between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, and has been hosted by Bob Fass since the year it first aired, 1963. Radio Unnameable is to social-network services what dadaism was to cinema. Recall how the leading culture critic of the first half of the 20th century, Walter Benjamin, described dadaist theater as a kind of cinema in a primitive state, cinema physically expressed before the technology of filmmaking had arrived and transported it to its proper place—the land of the silver screen.
Radio Unnameable is in a similarly primitive position with respect to social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Before the internet arrived, people in New York City used the exceptional freedoms of the radio program to express serious and nutty political concerns, play good and bad experimental music, and organize city events (a surprise party at JFK Airport, or a demonstration at a train station). In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the only technology available for the expression of this form of social/urban energy was the radio. The 1990s finally saw the arrival of a technology that liberated the expression from the confines of the radio—the internet. What we see in this rather straightforward and unremarkable documentary, then, is the twilight of radio; the twilight of its hero, the DJ; and the twilight of the age of the airwaves. Northwest Film Forum, Nov 30–Dec 6.