Movie of the Week – Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York

Posted by Greg on Feb 15, 2022 in Movies, Music |

There’s a certain pride in being from New York. A kind of pride that’s hard to explain. Sure everyone is proud of their hometown but New York City, well that’s something different. Okay, sure, technically Long Island was home but the amount of time I’ve spent living and working in NYC is enough to call it home. Even now a decade-plus into living in Central Florida, there are some things one still misses about NYC. Z100 is one of those things. I can’t begin to tell you how many bus rides, carpools, road trips and mundane errands had Z100 as the backdrop. But how exactly did Z100 become the household name it is today?

That story serves as the basis for Mitchell Stuart’s brisk and gnomic doc From Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York, released this past weekend to on-demand outlets via Gunpowder + Sky. Ostensibly a puff piece about Scott Shannon, Z100’s first program director and star DJ, the film documents his journey from top-rated Tampa, FL radio host to Z100’s infancy, emerging from the doldrums of radio the highest of heights.

While Shannon is very much the reason Z100 is now a household name the title of the film is a bit misleading. At its core this film is a Scott Shannon story and only a Scott Shannon story. That’s not necessary a problem for the film itself but more for the film as it is branded. Sure there are quite a few of Z100 personalities featured on screen and their anecdotes are definitely worth watching, but the entire notion of this film being about Z100 feels a bit misguided.

The film itself is brisk. With a running time under 70 minutes it packs a lot of information in very quick frames. But then again maybe that’s the point. When Shannon transferred his Zoo Radio idea from Tampa to New York City it was a giant gamble. Not only was it a gamble, it was also fast paced and kinetic. Perhaps the film’s brevity and break-neck running time is due in part to that. While no one wants to sit through a 140 minute documentary one gets the sense that this doc probably could have been 30-40 minutes longer.

That’s where the story feels incomplete. Scott Shannon left Z100 in the late 80s and as a result the station sagged. It eventually rose again under current DJ Elvis Duran. Glossing over that part of the story is where Worst to First departs from greatness. A more comprehensive look at Z100 post-Scott Shannon and how it re-emerged under Elvis Duran is critical to the story. Stuart’s decision to omit that arc is what lingers most after the film’s closing credits.

Worst to First is far from a total miss though. Featuring appearances by the likes of Nile Rodgers, Jon Bon Jovi and Joan Jett to name a few, Worst to First documents the 72-day rise of Z100 from obscurity and anonymity to worldwide fame. As it unpacks how a zany and unpredictable shock jock took a failing FM station to the top of the charts is where the film finds its stride. And while the film might only appeal to radio die-hards, music nerds and NYC/Tri-State area folks it’s a fun frolic down memory lane.

The film is available on-demand. A guide of where to stream it is below:
U.S. VOD platforms: Apple/ iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, Vudu, Microsoft and more.
U.S. Cable platforms: InDemand (Comcast, Spectrum, Charter, Cox, Frontier), DirectTV and more.
Canadian VOD platform: Apple/ iTunes

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