The story of disc jockey Scott Shannon and the dramatic and unexpected rise of New York City radio station Z100 in the 1980s was so compelling it needed to be told, according to Indian River resident John McConnell Shores.
“People need to know what happened, how it happened and to appreciate this special chapter in radio history,” McConnell said from his home in Sea Forest, “because this what Scott did to the Z100 was unprecedented.”
In fact, it was McConnell – a former New York radio executive and now a radio-TV talent agent – who, along with Shannon’s wife, Trish, came up with the idea to make a documentary about the transformation of the overnight from a shutdown no one cares about Call on FM to one of America’s most listened to radio stations.
One of the film’s executive directors, he also pitched the project, which meant convincing Shannon to do it.
“Scott wasn’t easily convinced,” McConnell said of Shannon, who became McConnell’s first agency client after McConnell resigned as senior vice president of programming at ABC Radio a while ago. nine years.
McConnell hired Mitchell Stuart — an Emmy-winning writer, producer, director and documentary filmmaker — to direct the film, a process that began in September 2019 and took more than a year to complete.
Most recently, McConnell used his local connections to have “From Worst to First: The True Story of the Z100 New York” included in this week’s Vero Beach Film Festival 2022.
A Saturday screening, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Theater Guild, will be immediately followed by an 1980s-themed dance party at the Heritage Center, which Shannon, his wife and Stuart are expected to attend. The film will be screened again at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the Courthouse Executive Center.
“Worst to First” caused a stir when it was released in February in New York, where it received mostly favorable media coverage. It also performed well on video-on-demand platforms, such as Apple/Amazon and GooglePlay, Xfinity On Demand, DirectTV, and spent several weeks as the #1 music documentary on iTunes.
“The documentary does a terrific job of capturing Scott’s vision and passion and how he did it, so I think it’s going to be well received here as well,” McConnell said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve invited have told me they grew up listening to Scott and Z100.”
For those who don’t know…
Shannon left a very successful morning radio show in Tampa in 1983 to pursue a dream in New York, where WHTZ (100.3 FM) was mired in the low ratings.
Just 74 days after Shannon’s arrival, the Z100 had gone from dead radio, jumping from #51 to #1 in the market. And it was his do-it-all show “Morning Zoo,” where he was joined by a cast of misfits, that set the tone and pace.
It was, said McConnell, “the stuff of legend”.
How did Shannon do it?
He immediately recognized that the New York radio market in 1983 no longer had a Top 40 station and changed the format to Z100 to fill the void. He then marketed Z100 throughout the New York metropolitan area by having his on-air personalities repeat throughout the day that the station broadcast from the top of the Empire State Building.
He brought celebrities into the studio and motivated listeners with contests and prizes to recruit their friends into the Z100 audience.
Shannon only spent six years at Z100, leaving in 1989 to start “Pirate Radio” on a radio station in Los Angeles. He returned to New York in 1991 and resurfaced at Z100’s biggest rival, WPLJ, where he was program director and morning co-host.
In 2014, Shannon moved to WCBS-FM – New York’s premier classic hits station – where he hosts an ever-popular morning show.
The Z100, meanwhile, continues to draw big ratings using the same Top 40 format that Shannon implemented nearly 40 years ago.
To help Shannon tell her Z100 story, Stuart brought in rock stars Jon Bon Jovi and Joan Jett, as well as Debbie Gibson and Taylor Dayne – 1980s pop stars who share their personal stories of the impact of station on their career.
Singer Tony Orlando and comedian Joe Piscopo also appear in the film, which in one segment recalls a then-unknown Madonna harassing Z100’s musical director on a weekly basis until Shannon finally agrees to play her demo record. “Holiday”, the club’s favorite song, became Madonna’s first hit song.
“Scott started an industry,” McConnell said. “Not only did hundreds of shows try to copy his style, but hundreds of stations followed his format. Thousands of people were employed by stations doing what he did.
“Scott might be the only radio personality who was #1 in the ratings on three different stations,” he added. “And his influence is still being felt.”
That’s why, McConnell said, he and Shannon’s wife were so adamant about making the film.
They had both watched the Showtime documentary about a Long Island-based station that embraced new wave music in the 1980s, and they thought, why not make one about Scott?
They already had the perfect title.