Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 (2022) Review

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Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 opens with Jon Bon Jovi telling a story about the first time he heard one of his songs on the radio. A great place to start a documentary about a scrappy radio station’s unlikely rise to the top, a real life WKRP in Cincinnati, right? Well it would be except he never says he heard it on Z100 and we see clips not from not “Runaway” which was his first single but “Wanted Dead or Alive” which came out at the peak of his success.

After stumbling out of the gate, Worst to First circles back to the beginning of Z100’s story with some background on the career of Scott Shannon, the successful Tampa  DJ who was hired to bring the station to life. This is mixed in with information on the New York City radio scene at the time and the challenges he was facing trying to crack such a large, and crowded, market.

WORST TO FIRST Debbie Gibson

While this is interesting, Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 can be a bit hard to follow as it cuts between the two and is interrupted by various music industry figures talking about the station’s impact on them. This really needed to be better edited in order to flow better, the constant jumping from story to story and back and forth in time feels muddled.

At around the thirty minute mark Worst to First reaches August 2nd 1983, the date Z100 signed on for the first time, But since the film is only an hour long that means it’s half over before the “Worst to First” saga even begins. It’s fifteen minutes after that they get to the ratings placing them dead last come out. That means the hook used to sell the film gets to share the last fifteen minutes of it.

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And what do we get in that fifteen minutes? Nothing particularly unusual, a barrage of contests, giveaways and station personalities turning up at events all over the city. Anyone who’s listened to radio in a competitive market is familiar with all of that. This supposedly inspiring race to the top was nothing more than a media blitz.

Maybe if it had run to feature length and expanded on the story it would have been better. If the audience was given a real look behind the scenes. How did he pick the crew for his “Morning Zoo”? How was Z100’s playlist, which we are constantly told was so revolutionary, chosen? These are the kinds of things I was hoping to see covered. Instead I got Geraldo Rivera babbling about NYC.

WORST TO FIRST Joan Jett

Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 feels like writer/director Mitchell Stuart (DB8: Weed in NoCo) made for a cable TV channel or maybe a streaming service with its hour length and lack of any real depth. Most of it is people telling us what a genius Scott Shannon is, without much in the way of details to back it up. Or considering one of the producers was Elvis Duran, Z100’s current Morning Show host, and how often we’re told how great the station is now, maybe it’s an infomercial they hope you’ll to pay to watch.

There are some interesting moments in Worst to First: The True Story of Z100. Those with an interest in the radio business or who lived in Z100’s broadcast area while this was happening may find it worth watching but most others will find it rough going even at an hour’s length.

Gunpowder and Sky will release Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 on Digital and VOD platforms on February 11th. You can check their website or Facebook page for more details.

Our Score