Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York

There was a time when music was made or broken on the radio. A time pre-streaming and downloading. Radio was king when it came to music. If you were a musician you hoped your song(s) would be played over and over on the radio until people bought it. As with many things, New York City was a powerful market for radio. To be a radio DJ or personality brought with it plenty of power.

Watch as DJs and musicians like Elvis Duran, Geraldo Rivera, Joan Jett, Jon Bon Jovi, Debbie Gibson, Taylor Dayne, Nile Rogers, Gavin DeGraw, Clive Davis, Tony Orlando, and Joe Piscopo all are interviewed to shed some light on the birth and eventual influence of Z100 in NYC.

Nothing or no one starts off at the top, there is a rise which happens. New York City radio during the early 1980s was rather underwhelming in regards to radio. Poor content was de rigueur. That meant there was an opportunity for a radio station to fill the void. Despite that no one expected Z100 to be that station. Yet it happened and largely due to a guy named Scott Shannon.

Florida native Shannon managed to bring Z100 from the bottom of the pile to the top of the heap. In 1983, Z100 was launched from New Jersey. It was such a bad location that no musician would go there and DJs working at the station had to buy their own records in order to have something to play. Yet against all odds due to the determination of morning show DJ Scott Shannon and his marketing wizardry as the station’s programming director, FM radio station Z100 became the most successful in United States history.

Z100 was purchased by Milton Maltz and became a Top 40 radio station. Even though the station wasn’t even situated in New York (rather, it was based in Secaucus, New Jersey) it rose to be number one in one of the country’s most influential cities. They did it by any means possible. Riding on Shannon’s crazy on-air personality and technology tricks like making the station’s sound the loudest in the area, Z100 was a place where music stars were made. Madonna recognized the power of the station early on and struck a deal in which if they played her first single she would grant them exclusive access to the premiere of her first film, Who’s That Girl.

The 80s was a different time. Radio excellence meant something and people strived for it. All that and more is transmitted through Mitchell Stuart’s documentary. A true underdog story about how in an incredible 74 days Z100 rose from the bottom to the top where it has remained for about 40 years. The film carries with it the sense of fun which one would imagine imbued every inch of Z100 in the 80s. It is almost a time capsule of the decade.

The interesting feature-length documentary is available on VOD platforms Apple/iTunes.