Worst To First: The True Story of Z100 New York Radio
WORST TO FIRST is a feature-length documentary that portrays the against-all-odds inspirational story of the launch of the iconic and most successful radio station in history, New York City’s Z100. In 1983, Z100 launched from the swamps of New Jersey, where no artist would venture, and the DJs had to buy their own records just to have music to play on air. Fun, poignant and aspirational, the film features Scott Shannon and several other Hall of Fame radio personalities as well as industry legends like Clive Davis and Elvis Duran. who is the current head of Z100.
Iconic artists who got their start on Z100 such as Jon Bon Jovi, Joan Jett, Nile Rodgers, and era superstars, Debbie Gibson and Taylor Dayne all share their personal stories of the importance of the station, their love of radio and passion for performing music.
Capturing the times, personalities and music of the era, WORST TO FIRST portrays the ultimate David and Goliath story that built the foundation for the world’s biggest radio station and the people behind the legacy that endures and continues to grow, reaching eight-digit audiences daily, and continuing to influence the face of media and entertainment.
This is not just a story about a successful radio station, but about one man who had a dream and wasn’t going to let anything or anyone stop him from achieving it. As a young DJ in Florida, he quickly gained ground as one of the top in the state, before he was poached by Z100 to head up their morning show in the very competitive NYC market. Z100 was a nobody in the game with most stations being run by the bigger corporate entities.
Once in NYC as the morning radio host, he was pretty much given free range to do as he likes. The station was basically operating in a format similar to community or university type radio, allowing DJs to play most anything they like without playlists. He also changed the format from the standard rock n roll slate to a more Top-40 format. This opened things up so that many up and coming artists were able to have a shot at hearing their music on the radio, which was the only opportunity to gain a following at the time.
The film has plenty of cameo appearances from artists who credit Shannon for their career breakthrough, including Bon Jovi, Joan Jett, Taylor Dayne, Debbie Gibson, and even Madonna, who apparently would show up weekly trying to get her dance club single, Holiday, played on the radio. Shannon eventually did, and was one of the first to do so. Overall, this is an interesting documentary for music fans, or from the sheer inspirational aspect of seeing how one person can have such a powerful, positive aspect on so many, by just staying focused. In the end, Shannon made a guerrilla style campaign to go from worst to first place in the ratings, and did so in 74 days by getting his listening audience to act as his word-of-mouth marketing strategy.
Available from Gunpowder & Sky February 11, 2022 on VOD Apple/ iTunes
DIRECTED, WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY: Mitchell Stuart
PRODUCED BY: Trish Hunter Shannon, Elvis Duran, David Katz and John McConnell
CAST: Scott Shannon, Elvis Duran, Jon Bon Jovi, Nile Rodgers, Clive Davis, Debbie Gibson, Joan Jett, Taylor Dayne, Tony Orlando, Joe Piscopo, “Magic” Matthew Alan, “Professor” Jonathan B. Bell, Frankie Blue, Anita Bonita, Ross Brittain, Pete Cosenza, Michael Ellis, Gavin DeGraw, Cathy Donovan, Gary Fisher, Frank Foti, Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton, David Hinckley, Donnie lenner, Jim Kerr, Steve Kingston, Ken Lane, Kenny Laguna, Jimi LaLumina, Tom Poleman, Geraldo Rivera, Trish Hunter Shannon, Patty Steele, Claire Stevens, Mitchell Stuart, John Sykes and Jim Wood.
MITCHELL STUART is a multiple film festival and Emmy-Award winning filmmaker and storyteller of compelling documentaries, groundbreaking digital series and industry-disrupting brand campaigns. Whether following his heart to tell an inspirational, against all odds story about female freedom fighters in Africa, or honoring his lifelong passion for music and filmmaking, Mitchell tells authentic stories that move and engage an audience.
Known for riveting, thought-provoking visuals and for often composing original music for the soundtracks of his films, he has been honored with 15 NY Emmy-Award Nominations for his music and entertainment documentary series, the Emmy-Award Winning Road to MSG, featuring Jay Z, Earth Wind & Fire, Chicago, Z100’s Jingle Ball concerts with Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, John Mayer, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and more. Dozens of film festivals throughout the world have honored him and his partner, Cheryl Halpern, winning awards for directing, best film, social justice, world peace and humanitarian efforts with their documentaries, Natsanat (Ethiopian for freedom), Fighting to be Free and Remembering Maurits Kiek.
Working closely with the Broadway community, Mitchell spearheaded the documentary-style Tony Award Campaign for Moulin Rouge the Musical resulting in 14 Tony Award nominations. He also directed a uniquely cinematic short film on the return to Broadway of Phantom of the Opera, and Broadway’s partnership with the MTA, The Only Sure Way to Broadway.
A proud born and bred New Yorker, his natural drive for diving deeper into his research preparation has led to stellar work with a diverse and brilliant who’s who list of musicians and newsmakers including The Who, Rod Stewart, Trevor Noah, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting and The Foo Fighters in first concert celebrating the return of live music to Madison Square Garden post COVID-19.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.