“Making Waves” is an interesting, if not too short, documentary about the exciting world of “pirate” radio. Ever since the Communications Act of 1996, which allowed radio stations to be gobbled up by large companies, the public radio industry has pretty much hit rock bottom. Diverse programming virtually vanished from the dial and listeners were reduced to hearing the same 10 or 15 songs over and over and over, day in and day out. For example, turn on a rock station in your area. In the span of an hour, there is a good chance the station will play Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” like it was brand new. Who isn’t sick of that song? Even Pearl Jam fans hate that song. It’s been almost 15 years since that song was released, there has to be something new to play, doesn’t there?
It’s this kind of repetitive programming that helped spawn the “pirate” movement. “Making Waves” follows a few various talents in Tucson, Arizona (and one pastor from Michigan), as they reveal what motivated them away from big networks and how they started up their own instead. They argue that if the radio airwaves are publicly owned, how come they are allowed to be corporate-controlled? An ideal question when you examine modern day radio, which is mostly owned by one large network – Clear Channel.
Starting up a radio station doesn’t seem to be that difficult, as the boys explain, but staying on the air is an uphill battle. Each one of them is soon contacted by the FCC, which claims that these small, unlicensed stations are interfering with the signals of the larger stations. The guys do their homework though, making sure there is no possible way for these low-wattage stations to obstruct the waves of the higher power stations. And they are certain there enough channels away on the dial to avoid confusion for the mindless channel surfers looking to hear the next Kelly Clarkson song.
“Making Waves” not only spotlights the underground radio industry and its troubles to stay alive, it shows us that there are still people in this country that are passionate enough to take a stand against something they know is wrong. Armed with the First Amendment, these men are willing to actually do something as opposed to sitting around just talking about doing something. Director Michael Lahey surely exposed a fascinating subject with equally colorful and inspiring characters that leaves you wanting more. Although he only gives us a little taste (64 minutes worth), it would have been nice if he gave us a larger helping.