Radio Free St. Louis review by The Grim Ringler

Radio Free St

Radio Free St. Louis – This is Chuck Norman

            As hard as it may be to imagine today in a world where conglomerates own almost every radio station and the choices of a listener are extremely limited, this wasn’t always the case. On the edge of the rock and roll revolution that was about to change not just America, but the world, a man decided that he was ready to enter the world of radio in St. Louis, Missouri and give it something it didn’t yet have there – not just a voice, but a face, a persona. That man was Chuck Norman, the subject of this loving documentary directed by Daniel Byington.

            RFSL presents the story and life of Mr. Norman via the people that he touched the deepest – his community. We hear the stories of his early days as a broadcaster in St. Louis and how it was hid dream to own a radio station where everyone had a voice, no matter what they had to say. He was able to purchase a station on the AM band and it wasn’t long before WGNU was changing the way people in St. Louis thought about radio and what it meant to them. Essentially a talk radio station early on, WGNU lived up to its promise to give each and every voice a forum and while this created an environment of audio chaos, it was this chaos that the city began to love. We see through interviews with WGNU’s radio personalities and the many callers who feel like the station’s airwaves are home to them, how the station has touched this community and how the annual Christmas charity fundraiser Mr. Norman holds has touched St. Louis. What we see in this documentary is not just the story of a man, but the story of how a man helped to give a voice to a community and how that community came together behind him, differences put aside, in order to try to better understand one another. And it is the love of this community for Mr. Norman which stands out strongly in this film, that and the wonder that someone could risk so much financially by creating such a free-for-all radio station, but who stood by it and free speech above all else. Pretty impressive.

            This is a very well put together film, but sadly a very cold one. As much as I liked the story of this man who believed in free speech enough to create a station that supported that belief, and the ideal that everyone has a right to their opinion, there doesn’t feel like there is a heart here. The direction by Mr. Byington is very well handled and the film lets the people who knew and loved Mr. Norman and his station tell their story without getting in their way. And believe me, there are some eclectic people in this doc. As well as this film is made though it’s hard to get a very good handle on who Chuck Norman really is as we only get to hear about him, never from him, which is a very hard problem for the film to overcome. I am sure there was a good reason why Mr. Norman didn’t actively participate, but it hampers the effect the film has. From what we hear, he is a very warm, giving man, who created not just a radio station that was important for St. Louis, but who created an equally important fundraiser that became as legendary for its charity as for the Christmas party. We also hear some interesting stories that could have lead to some very funny questions such as the fact that he is always seen in photos with beautiful women and is talked about in reference to being a fan of beautiful women, but it’s left at that. I can see why you wouldn’t want to create any scandal, but this is stuff that sounds too good not to look into, even farcically. But if the choice was made to not include Mr. Norman himself in this then it becomes important for someone (usually this falls to the director) to give a voice to things and to put everything in context. To essentially serve as a guide through Chuck Norman’s life. With so many voices and varied personalities here the viewer, especially one not familiar with WGNU or Mr. Norman, needs someone to put things in context and to give us a bigger picture. The film is a very loving tribute not just to a man, but also to what he has achieved and continues to achieve, but without either the participation of Mr. Norman or a guiding hand here, it’s hard to see this as being much more than a local story. Director Daniel Byington has created a very interesting and very thoughtful film, but sadly one that won’t ring very deeply for those outside of St. Louis. It shows some promise though and with a stronger structure, shows that he could be a very good documentary filmmaker some day. A very sincere, interesting film, but one with too big of a flaw to completely overcome, as strong as the personalities may be in the film – and it is worth seeing just for some of the people that are fans of the station, whoa!

If you are interested in more about WGNU in St. Louis you can go here -


For ordering information you can email Mr. Byington to inquire –

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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