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Talk Hard: The Making of the Teen-Angst Classic ‘Pump Up the Volume’

In 1990, an indie drama about an anti-authoritarian pirate radio DJ obsessed with masturbation jokes signaled a wave of mutilation that was cresting over American culture. Thirty years later, it still feels prescient. 

New Line Cinema/Ringer illustration

“You ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?”

These words, coming from a distorted, disembodied voice, are how the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume begins. And yeah dude, I get that feeling. You probably get it too. Maybe it came just this morning, waking up to a deluge of terrible, terrifying news and a bunch of possible solutions to problems where it still feels like everybody loses. And maybe you first got that feeling back when you were a teenager, sitting alone in your bedroom or on a couch in front of your parents’ TV, realizing how much everything in the world (friends, family, school, work, hormones, you, the president, cops, racism, sexism, homophobia, religion, network sitcoms, pretentious movies, corporate media, opportunistic activists, cash-in nostalgia, turtles dying from plastic in the ocean, deodorant commercials ...) kind of sucks, and you weren’t sure how or if they’d ever stop sucking.

No matter what year you were born in, it’s tough not to get those teenage feelings these days, since nearly every person in a position of power seems either incompetent, indifferent, or actively trying to screw you over.

These are angsty times we’re living in, which is just one reason that Pump Up the Volume, an incredibly influential if criminally under-seen teen drama released 30 years ago on August 22, feels so resonant right now, despite its late-’80s/early-’90s fashion and technology. Starring Christian Slater, and written and directed by Allan Moyle (Empire Records, Times Square), Pump Up the Volume tells the story of Mark Hunter, a teenager whose parents transplant him from New York City to suburban Arizona. Unable to talk to anybody in his new surroundings, he finds his voice behind a microphone in the isolation of the basement bedroom where he broadcasts his pirate radio show. At 10 p.m. every night he’s free to embody Happy Harry Hard-On, a character who goes on rants, pretends to compulsively masturbate, and blasts his favorite songs by Richard Hell and Descendents. Though he started the show for his own amusement, he soon amasses a rapt listening audience among his fellow students at Hubert H. Humphrey High School, who might not know his true identity but are inspired by his words to rise up against their authoritarian, corrupt principal.

Pump Up the Volume hardly made a dent at the box office, landing in the 15th position during its opening week at a time when theaters were dominated by Ghost, Flatliners, and Presumed Innocent. But months later it found a following among disaffected and dissatisfied teenagers. Which really could be any teenager, as long as they had parents who weren’t paying much attention to what was getting rented on their Blockbuster account. (Even Sam Esmail, who would revive Slater’s career 25 years later with Mr. Robot, is an avowed fan of Pump Up the Volume and snuck in references to it on his show over the years.) The film also functioned like a mixtape guide to a more interesting life, encouraging amenable viewers to not just track down Pixies B-sides and the music of Leonard Cohen, but to learn about everything from Lenny Bruce to cock rings to the sweet, artificial thrills found inside a can of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi.

Pump Up the Volume, with its call for new voices from an ascendent generation to emerge, foretold a major shift that was about to happen in pop culture. The year after its release would bring the debut album of Tupac Shakur, Bikini Kill’s Revolution Girl Style Now! cassette, Liz Phair’s Girly-Sound 4-track recordings that would soon evolve into Exile in Guyville, and Nirvana’s Nevermind. (In a strange bit of synchronicity, in Pump Up the Volume after Hard Harry lambasts the sellouts of his parents’ generation, he warbles the chorus of the Youngbloods’ hippie classic “Get Together,” a comedic bit that Kurt Cobain repeated in the intro to “Territorial Pissings.”) Beyond the world of music, in 1991 Richard Linklater’s Slacker got a theatrical release, John Singleton made his cinematic debut with Boyz n the Hood and Quentin Tarantino filmed Reservoir Dogs, while Donna Tartt sold her debut novel The Secret History to Knopf for $450,000 and Douglas Coupland published Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

“It felt like something was happening,” says Samantha Mathis, who was 19 when she was cast in Pump Up the Volume. “We were moving away from that synthesized sort of sound and moving into something edgier, and we had the dissonance of being around the ‘greed is good’ era of filmmaking and finance in the world. There was anger, and I thought Allan really tapped into that with this movie.”

Allan Moyle got the idea to make his protagonist a pirate radio DJ from the unregulated stations in the United Kingdom that would broadcast off of ships during the 1960s. But even more important to Pump Up the Volume and its suburban setting was a figure from his own past. Moyle grew up in Shawinigan, a small town in Quebec about 150 miles from the Vermont border, during the post–World War II era. At the English language high school he attended, he had a classmate with an amateur printing press he kept in his basement. That classmate would use it to make anonymous pamphlets to distribute around the school. Some featured his commentaries on life, others attacked the principal and the institution. Moyle admired him and saw him as someone more sophisticated and far braver than he could be at their age.

Then his classmate shot himself with a .22 rifle in the nearby woods. Moyle was profoundly affected by his death and even visited the spot where it was said he did it. “I was upset because I could see that he was dark and I was attracted to that, but also afraid of it,” Moyle says now from his home in Venice, California. “If he’d gotten to university or a big city, he would have found people like him, artists basically, but he was too young.”

“I thought here’s a guy, a voice crying out in the wilderness ... but he’s more than this town,” he continues.

The first version of Moyle’s script was called Radio Death. It followed a young pirate DJ’s final broadcast, one that he promises will end in his own death by suicide and where he ruminates on all the different ways he might end his life. But as the show continues, and as the listeners hang on, it becomes clear that he doesn’t actually plan on going through with the act.

Moyle had previously directed 1980’s Times Square. Though it’s now considered a cult classic because of its punk and new wave influences, making it was a traumatizing experience. During post-production, the film was taken away from him by producer Robert Stigwood, who cut the scenes that made the lesbian relationship between the two teenage leads obvious, rather than implied. Moyle vowed to only write movies and to never direct again. Then, at the end of the ’80s when he had already entered his 40s, he took a meeting with a young executive named Sandy Stern.

Growing up in the village of Roslyn on Long Island in the ’70s and ’80s, Stern would tune into New York City’s WBAI, a public radio station left of the dial, to learn about the world beyond his conservative hometown. “I was the classic teenager-outsider-freak-geek that felt like I didn’t fit in,” he says. “I would literally turn on the radio late at night and realize that there was a whole world out there, which is what the internet is clearly doing now for kids in the middle of nowhere. But the radio really spoke to me and was a force for me finding my way out of suburbia, and a way into myself as well.”

After dropping out of the clinical psychology graduate program at NYU, Stern eventually got a job running production out of a satellite office in New York for a Canadian film company. A mutual colleague put him in touch with Moyle, and before they met, Stern read the seed of what would become Pump Up the Volume. He remembers it as a 45-page treatment called Lean on Me. Stern was excited about the project, but it had no ending. “I came to the meeting with an idea, which ultimately became the third act of this movie,” he says. “And Allan Moyle, when I pitched him, stood up, spilled red wine all over me and the table, hugged me, and said, ‘Oh my god, I love that idea. We have to do this together.’ And that’s how it started.”

With both of them living in New York City, the two worked on the script for a year. Moyle explains that because of strict Writers Guild of America provisions, producers cannot take writing credits on screenplays, but that Stern’s contributions to the script would otherwise merit it. As they collaborated, Stern cajoled Moyle into directing it as well.

In the years since Pump Up the Volume’s release, Stern has produced films including Being John Malkovich and Saved!, and went into a partnership with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe on his Single Cell Pictures venture, after Mathis introduced him to the singer. He is also a faculty member at Los Angeles’s American Film Institute. Pump Up the Volume was his first producer credit, and he tells his students that over his entire career, putting together another film has never gone as smoothly. “I keep looking for the same experience to happen to me again, and it never has,” he says. “When I look back on it now and know how hard it is to get a movie made, it’s what hooked me into the business.”

As they tried to set up financing and distribution for their independent film, Moyle and Stern went about casting their Mark Hunter. Moyle’s first choice was John Cusack, because he saw a natural darkness in him, but the actor declined the role. He was just coming off Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything and had decided he wasn’t going to play any more high schoolers.

Their next pick was Christian Slater. He’d been working in movies since he was kid, landing key roles in lovable teen trash like The Legend of Billie Jean and Gleaming the Cube, as well as supporting parts in the prestigious duds Tucker: The Man and His Dream and The Name of the Rose. But at the beginning of 1989, filmmakers were clamoring to work with Slater following his appearance as J.D., the charming and homicidal boyfriend in the darker-than-dark comedy Heathers. Critics and profile writers were already beginning to dwell on the then-19-year-old’s Jack Nicholson–esque affectations, where he mimicked the Hollywood legend both in his performances on the screen and his carousing behavior in real life. Across 1988 and 1989, Slater was arrested twice for drunk driving. The second offense happened after he crashed his Saab Turbo into two telephone polls following a car chase with the sheriff’s department and ended with him getting sentenced to 10 days in jail.

In the spring of 1989, Moyle and Stern flew out and had a lunch meeting with Slater at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood after sending him a copy of their script. Movie stars are usually counseled to never commit to a project during a first meeting, especially when they are as in demand as Slater was at the time, but he immediately told the pair he was in. “Never happens like that,” says Stern.

Slater declined to comment for this piece, though earlier this year while promoting the TV series Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, he told Variety, “[Pump Up the Volume] is my favorite movie I’ve ever done. … It wasn’t a typical high school movie, and it really did get into some of the darker, more gruesome details of what it’s actually like to be a teenager in high school.”

Slater’s battles with substance abuse took him to some truly dark places, but he’s now been in recovery for several decades. During a 2015 profile of him in GQ, writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner repeatedly tried to coax Slater into revisiting his turbulent young adulthood. She was politely but continuously rebuffed. “Here I am living my life and it’s just this calm set of leaves and resting on a nice pool of water, and then a journalist comes in and says let’s go, let’s stir it up, let’s think about things you haven’t thought about in 25 years,” he told her.

Moyle and Stern were in talks with Island Pictures, the film offshoot of Chris Blackwell’s storied record label, to make Pump Up the Volume. The deal fell apart after Island demanded that the character of Malcom Kaiser, a bookish and lonely Happy Harry Hard-On listener who shoots himself after a crucial scene, not be gay. Moyle and Stern refused to make the change, though in the final version of the film it isn’t stated explicitly that he is homosexual. “It was told to me, but never clarified with the audience,” says Anthony Lucero, the actor who played Kaiser, “which I liked, because it left room for all of the things that we struggle with.”

Pump Up the Volume then found a backer in New Line Cinema, the biggest name in American independent movies at the time. New Line’s main moneymaker in the 1980s was the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and in March 1990 it would hit big again with the first live-action adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the company also made hipper pictures too, like Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy and John Waters’s mondo-trashtacular oeuvre. “We realized we were doing well with the youth market and genre kinds of films,” says Sara Risher, the company’s longtime head of production who has an executive producer credit on Pump Up the Volume. “When the script came to us, I’m not sure how it got to us, but I loved it immediately. I met Allan and thought he was a little bit crazy—and loved that about him—and full of energy and enthusiasm and ideas.”

To help shepherd Pump Up the Volume, New Line brought on Rupert Harvey as a producer. The studio had already worked with him on A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and the first Critters film. “The first draft [of the script] that I read was more out there,” says Harvey. “Allan—as can be told from many things in the movie, including the soundtrack—was (a) Canadian, and (b) a Leonard Cohen fan beyond all others. There was a tone to the movie originally that was supplanted by making it more linear and making it more acceptable to a more general audience.”

Moyle concurs with this assessment. “I wanted the thing to be a bit more obscure, and everyone wanted the thing to be a bit more pop,” he says. That shift also translated to changing the film’s title to Pump Up the Volume so it shared its name with a hit dance song by M|A|R|R|S that had been released a few years earlier.

Looking back at his career, the now 73-year-old Moyle often focuses on the compromises he had to make, or were imposed on him, in order to get his films done. At one point in our interview he referred to Pump Up the Volume as “an abortion,” before admitting he was exaggerating and that it’s one of the few films he made that he’s proud of. Still, he feels he’s often had to stifle his more experimental tendencies in service of an accessibility that he’s not particularly interested in. “Every producer we went to wanted to sanitize it more and more,” says Moyle. “Some people in the clusterfuck of people that want to make movies always want to sanitize. They’ll deny it, but what they want secretly is for the movie to appeal to everybody. I don’t know how to make a good movie, but I know how to make a bad movie, and that’s try to appeal to everybody.”

While the teen flicks of the 1980s are now fondly remembered for the charms of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and John Hughes’s endearing tributes to youth, there were also plenty of brain-dead sex romps and opportunistic rip-offs. But as the decade ended, Say Anything imbued the teen relationship comedy with far more emotional complexity than usual, and as the country entered the ’90s, Pump Up the Volume offered a less exploitative and more considered version of nihilistic fare like Over the Edge and Suburbia. “It was all Hollywood pap that was coming out at the time, and here was something that was much more ballsy, realistic, and true,” says Harvey. “Allan was well past his teenage years, but he was speaking as a teenager. He was still very much in touch with the angst and the anger and the frustrations of being that old and having self-awareness and not being taken seriously.”

The script also struck a chord with the cast, most of whom were the same age, or a few years removed from the kids they portrayed. One of them was Mathis, who played Nora Diniro, an arty sleuth and ardent listener determined to figure out Happy Harry Hard-On’s true identity. “I had been a huge fan of John Hughes movies, which I still love,” Mathis says, “but I felt like [Pump Up the Volume] went to this raw place, with the landscape of being a teenager and being in a world where you see so much that’s wrong and feel cynical about society.”

Mathis had appeared in a few television shows and made-for-TV movies, but Pump Up the Volume was her first real film. In it she’s a mesmerizing, charismatic swirl of bright lipstick, sly jokes, dyed hair, and illicitly smoked cigarettes. Her character paints abstract portraits and sends Harry anonymous erotic poetry that causes him to christen her the “Eat Me, Beat Me Lady.” “She was everything I wanted to be in high school,” says Mathis. “She was bold and outspoken and unapologetic, and she had chutzpah.”

Lala Sloatman, the then-19-year-old niece of Frank Zappa who’d been living at the musician’s Laurel Canyon compound since she was 15, auditioned for the role of Nora, but ended up getting cast as her best friend Janie. An aspiring actress who had already appeared in two movies with Corey Haim, Sloatman spent her free time hanging out with the Beastie Boys and goofing around with her younger cousin Ahmet Zappa as they were getting “super into fuckin’ Whitesnake.”

The younger Zappa frequented Hollywood’s child actor social circuit, spending time at infamous spots like Jerry’s Famous Deli in Beverly Hills and Alphy’s Soda Pop Club. “I had dropped out of school at the beginning of eighth grade, I missed more than half a year of school prior to that,” he says. “I just started working as a kid, working on creating new businesses, and when I felt like it, to try to make some extra money, I auditioned for something. I could not really consider myself a child actor per se, though I did work on a lot of things here and there.”

He tagged along to Sloatman’s Pump Up the Volume audition, and after he met Moyle, the director created the part of Jamie for him. “Supposedly we were boyfriend and girlfriend in the movie, but it never evolved like that,” says Sloatman. “Thank goodness.”

Mark Hunter’s basement studio, as well as the bedrooms of his young listeners, were sets constructed in a studio in Los Angeles. For the film’s fictional setting of Paradise Hills, Arizona, they picked Saugus, a Southern California suburb near Six Flags Magic Mountain, as a stand-in. For Hubert H. Humphrey High School they used Saugus High School, which became an all-too-common site of tragedy in 2019 when Nathaniel Berhow shot five students, two fatally, before killing himself on his 16th birthday.

Every morning before filming in Saugus, director of photography Walt Lloyd would drive his Mitsubishi Montero to pick up Moyle at his place in Santa Monica. During the hourlong drive (if traffic wasn’t too bad) the two would discuss their plans for the day. Lloyd had recently shot Steven Soderbergh’s indie sensation Sex, Lies, and Videotape and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of Pump Up the Volume because of the script, even though there were plenty of potential red flags that came with it. “It was low budget,” he says. “It was a lot of nights up in Saugus. There were a lot of stunts. There were a lot of kid actors. On paper, there was a reason to be nervous.”

Instead, the production went relatively smoothly. “Most film sets are pretty contentious, there’s always somebody fighting,” says Lucero. “I just don’t remember that being the case. In fact, Allan had quite a few parties, and they were always quite imaginative and fun. He’d have these giant, strange ice sculptures of various human organs. There just wasn’t a lot of ego.”

“[Moyle] was really adamant about having a crew that was cohesive and knew each other,” says Mathis. “He had this credo that he wanted the crew to be skinny guys who read books. He wanted everyone involved to be invested in the making of this movie.”

The cast became tight as well, carpooling to the set together, waiting around until the others were finished with their scenes before leaving, then hanging out together in L.A. afterward. Zappa quickly targeted Seth Green, who plays a young metalhead in the film, for an on-going series of pranks, like making it look like the vintage car he’d just bought had been stolen and creating a fake Saugus High student who would send him love letters. (Green declined to comment for this article.)

Ultimately though, the movie’s success hinged on Slater’s performance, which mostly consisted of either unbridled monologues in a room by himself or being so painfully shy around others that it seemed like he might have an aneurysm if he made eye contact. “It was a fascinating character to play, because I was really acting like Superman,” Slater told the Los Angeles Times in a 1990 profile. “I was meek and mild on the outside, but a hero on the inside.”

“He was extraordinary to work with and extraordinary as a person” says Ellen Greene, the theater veteran who plays the writing teacher Jan Emerson, the sole compassionate adult in the film. “Not only was he true to himself and his acting ability, but he was really true to his character.”

Moyle calls Slater “a stallion of a young actor” and fondly remembers how every morning on set he’d eat a breakfast that consisted of a big bowl of bacon drenched in maple syrup. It was over this meal that Slater would learn his lines for the day. But once Slater memorized the words, he stuck to them, going against Moyle’s preferred improvisational style. The director sees what he writes as simply a starting point, then hopes the actors will come up with their own material in the moment. “He relished the discovery on film, and the danger and excitement that comes with that,” says Mathis.

“He let us do whatever we wanted,” adds Sloatman. “I worked with Robert Towne [on Tequila Sunrise] and I felt nervous and intimidated on some of these sets, but Allan was really comfortable, and he just loved all of us goofing around and ad-libbing and playing. He let us do all kinds of crazy stuff. I felt so much freedom on that movie.”

This looseness spilled into other parts of the production. Moyle is an eccentric—emotionally raw and a bit scattered. His temperament is far from the control freaks who are often considered directorial masters, like Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, or the Coen Brothers. “Allan is a little, should I say, free form,” says Lloyd, who remains one of his good friends. “He’s not a traditional all-the-t’s-crossed and i’s-dotted type of director. And I work pretty well like that. I can improvise pretty easily, and in fact I like working like that. I know a lot of people who are more structured would probably have a heart attack if they saw the way we worked.”

When filming ended and editing began, Moyle says the first rough cut caused New Line’s founder Robert Shaye to tell him that the movie was unreleasable. Fortunately, the executive’s young daughters were standing behind him waving their arms, signaling to Moyle to not listen to their dad. He also says that Risher soon told him that this was a common tactic of Shaye’s to get filmmakers to work harder. As postproduction progressed and additional material was shot to help with the film’s connective tissue, the film began to do well with test audiences.

Another crucial factor in Pump Up the Volume’s improved reception was finalizing the songs used in the film—a task spearheaded by music supervisor Kathy Nelson, a pioneer in her field who continues working on major projects like Top Gun: Maverick. Nelson started the soundtrack department at MCA Records in the mid-’80s under Irving Azoff. She’d actively look through the film industry trade publications to find movies in pre-production that sounded interesting, then approached their makers about putting out something on MCA. “It was before everybody realized music was actually a good marketing tool,” says Nelson. “It was before studios ruined the soundtrack business by going, ‘Let’s just find the next hit single by so-and-so and put it at the end of the movie.’ A complete disconnect.”

Moyle always intended for Happy Harry Hard-On’s intro music to be Leonard Cohen’s cynical “Everybody Knows,” whose recording was engineered by Moyle’s first wife, Leanne Ungar. Shaye thought the song was too morose, so Nelson had Concrete Blonde, a group signed to MCA, record a sultrier cover version. Eventually Shaye relented and let Moyle use Cohen’s original, so Concrete Blonde’s take plays just once during the film’s climax.

Pump Up the Volume’s beloved soundtrack was one of the biggest factors in the prolonged dissemination of the film over the years. It also serves as a preview of where modern music was going. The soundtrack includes songs by Sonic Youth and Soundgarden before college rock became the more mass-marketable alternative rock. It also has tracks by Ice-T and Above the Law, capturing the moment when gangsta rap took hold in the suburbs but hadn’t reached the multiplatinum status it would find just a few years later through albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. “I’ve always liked edgy stuff,” says Nelson. “Because of Allan’s taste and because of the character being an edgy guy that was a rule breaker, I really knew it could be a soundtrack with music that I really like too, not total, straight-down-the-middle pop songs.”

As Pump Up the Volume’s release date neared, its prospects looked good. It won the award for best film at the Seattle International Film Festival in May and critics were mostly supportive. In the Washington Post, Rita Kempley called it “passionately caring. It’s a howl from the heart, a relentlessly involving movie that gives a kid every reason to believe that he or she can come of age.” New Line began to get excited about how well it might do at the box office. Then it only made $1.6 million during its first week in theaters, before finally ending with a total $11.5 million gross after four weeks.

After a discouraging initial showing, New Line didn’t expand or continue advertising the film, doubting that its theatrical audience could grow. It didn’t want to lose any more money on the film. As with any commercial failure, the second-guessing started and hasn’t totally stopped yet. Maybe the poster wasn’t strong enough. Maybe they didn’t get the trailer right. Maybe teens just weren’t able to get into the theater to watch an R-rated teen movie with prodigious swearing, nudity, suicide, and dick jokes. “Even though I was at New Line, I can actually say that I think New Line did a not-very-good job in distribution and marketing,” says Risher, “simply because they did not reach the audience that wanted to see it and loved it.”

“The film did not fail,” she continues. “The film was and is terrific in every way—with the music, with the casting—what failed is it didn’t reach its audience at the time. At the time.”

Pump Up the Volume may have not made much of an impact in theaters, but word caught on about it in the first half of the ’90s through robust VHS rentals and pay-cable showings. It became a touchstone for kids intrigued by everything cleverly subversive, alongside Ren & Stimpy, Heathers, comedian Bill Hicks, and albums by the Smiths. “My son was proud of the movie,” says Risher. “When he went off to college, he was known as the kid whose mom made Pump Up the Volume.”

Unfortunately, as the technology of viewing mediums has progressed, Pump Up the Volume has not kept up. It has received only a bare bones treatment on DVD and no Blu-Ray release. Even more detrimental to its potential spread to younger generations is that it’s never been available to rent or download through digital services like iTunes or Amazon. New Line was bought by Turner Broadcasting System in early 1994 and through a series of corporate mergers, its catalog is now owned by Warner Bros. When that company’s new HBO Max streaming service launched in May, Pump Up the Volume sadly was not included alongside other New Line titles from that era, like House Party and Metropolitan. As of now the only way to watch it online is through segmented uploads on YouTube or other illicit methods.

There’s nothing specific about Pump Up the Volume that makes Warner and New Line not want to put the film up, but there are legal issues that come with it being made before digital distribution even existed that need to be resolved. And it’s far from the only movie from this era that’s not available digitally. Every one of the dozens of songs that appear in Pump Up the Volume would have to be relicensed before it could legally be available, and that might not be so easy, for example, when a rarity by the Beastie Boys called “Scenario” that the group has never officially released in any form is directly referenced, played, and rapped over in the film. Even the film’s soundtrack isn’t on audio streaming services, aside from incomplete versions cobbled together by fans as playlists.

After Pump Up the Volume, Moyle directed the films The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag and Empire Records. On the latter, the producers once again took the film away from him and it turned into an even bigger financial disaster than Pump Up the Volume, even though it too has its devotees. He hasn’t directed a Hollywood film since, though he kept working as an uncredited screenwriter for directors like Peter Bogdanovich. There have been talks about various reboots or reimaginings of Pump Up the Volume as a movie or a television show, but nothing has come together yet. Stern has been developing a musical theater adaptation of the film for years, and it was finally going to premiere in Pittsburgh this past April, but the pandemic effectively ended that.

While Pump Up the Volume was an angry movie, it was also a hopeful one. It told teenagers that they were not alone in their struggles and in their fears. As the police get ready to lock him up, Hunter’s message to his listeners is to steal the airwaves for themselves, just like he has. The film ends with an audio collage of teenagers around the country with their own pirate stations, talking directly to the people who need to hear them. Moyle calls it a stray moment that still makes him choke up.

These days it’s easier than ever for people to broadcast themselves, even if it is through the technology of mega corporate intermediaries. YouTube, podcasts, TikTok, Instagram Live … it’s gotten to the point where the amount of voices beamed directly into your brain can get overwhelming. “Now there are thousands of Hard Harrys on the internet,” says Moyle. Then, with his characteristic candor, he adds, “I keep looking for one and hoping it will be interesting, but some of the stupidest people have their own shows.”

So be it.

Eric Ducker is a writer and editor in Los Angeles.

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