This film was produced by Universal Pictures and originally released to theaters in the spring of 1978.
QSKY radio station manager/program director Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) builds a large fan base by assembling a group of charismatic DJ personalities playing popular rock and roll. He soon finds that corporate management expects Jeff to use the station's position atop the ratings to sell more advertising time. (Jeff Dugan is based loosely on Mike Herrington, the program director of Los Angeles radio station KMET while writer Sacks was working there.)
The conflict grows until sales manager Regis Lamar (Tom Tarpey) presents him with the chance to advertise for the U.S. Army using a series of cheesy radio ads. When Jeff refuses to endorse the contract, Regis takes the issue to upper management. Jeff is then ordered to run the ads as provided by the Army and on the schedule specified in the advertising contract. Rather than comply, Jeff quits his job.
All of the remaining DJs decide to take control of the station in a sort of lock-in/sit-in/protest. They get listeners to gather in the street outside the station as a sort of protest while the DJs play music without any commercials.
Jeff Dugan wakes up to hear the DJs take control of the station. The crowd is already present when he arrives at the station. The DJs lift him up to the second story with a fire hose as they have already barricaded the front doors.
The lock-in lasts only until the police get an injunction to remove the staff. A tow truck rips off the front doors and the police enter the building. The DJs battle back using a fire hose and throwing tapes and other office objects at the police.
The battle is resolved when Jeff Dugan finds himself fighting a policeman outside on an overhang. Jeff saves the policeman from falling off and decides that fighting is the wrong thing to do. He calms the crowd and announces that the DJs are coming out.
Unknown to him, the company owner, Carl Billings (Norman Lloyd), has watched from the crowd as the events unfolded. He insists that the DJs stay in the station, fires his management staff responsible for the advertising conflict, and then joins the DJs inside the station.Michael Brandon as Jeff Dugan
Eileen Brennan as Mother
Alex Karras as Doc (Holiday)
Cleavon Little as Prince of Darkness
Martin Mull as Eric Swan
Cassie Yates as Laura Coe
Norman Lloyd as Carl Billings
Jay Fenichel as Bobby Douglas
James Keach as Lt. Reach
Joe Smith as Albert Driscoll
Tom Tarpey as Regis Lamar
The story unfolds across a background of concerts, broadcast music, appearances by various rock stars, and public appearances by the station DJs. A minor subtheme to the film is the competition between QSKY and another area radio station. The major event of that subtheme occurs when Jeff arranges to broadcast a live concert by Linda Ronstadt that is being sponsored by the competitor's radio station.
Another minor subtheme is the ongoing task of massaging egos of the various DJs to keep them happy and on the air.
Martin Mull appears in his feature film debut as a zoned-out record spinner. He plays Eric Swan, a libidinous disc jockey with eyes for everyone female. The character is self-centered, smarmy, quick tempered, and overbearingly insincere. During the course of the film, Swan beds a supposed girlfriend, encounters a female fan with a peculiar physical "gift", and barricades himself in owing to a severe emotional breakdown due to his agent's dropping him and his girlfriend's leaving him, all within the confines of QSKY's studio.
Also rounding out the cast are Cleavon Little, who plays the Prince of Darkness, QSKY's overnight host (Little had previously played a disc jockey in the 1971 film, Vanishing Point); Eileen Brennan as " Mother", the 40-something nighttime DJ; Alex Karras as "Doc Holiday", the midday DJ with the lowest ratings on the station who is eventually let go from the station; and Tom Tarpey as new sales manager Regis Lamar, the bane of the disk jockeys' existence.
In addition, the film includes live appearances by Tom Petty & REO Speedwagon and live performances by Linda Ronstadt & Jimmy Buffett. Steely Dan performed the title theme, which became a sizable hit. The Eagles, James Taylor, Bob Seger, Dan Fogelberg, Billy Joel, and Queen were featured on the Platinum-plus soundtrack album.
Rolling Stone magazine considered the music heavily biased towards musicians who had been managed by Irving Azoff, who was head of MCA Records at the time. Some reference books claim that the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati was based on FM. The physical resemblance between Michael Brandon and WKRP lead actor Gary Sandy and the fact that their respective characters were both based upon KMET programming director Mikel Hunter may have contributed to this speculation. However, WKRP series creator Hugh Wilson asserts that the sitcom was already in development when the film came out. He also states that he was "scared to death" when the film came out, afraid that it would eclipse the CBS show, which made its debut in September 1978. Wilson was relieved when FM came and went from theaters quickly.
Steely Dan's "FM (No Static at All)" won engineer Roger Nichols the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical.