Popular music is full of paeans and elegies to broadcast radio, including the triumphant 1978 Elvis Costello song that gives this column its name and the Buggles’ 1979 MTV hit “Video Killed the Radio Star.” However, radio is about more than rock songs, and many novels have weighed in on the subject—including these three, all recommended by Kirkus Indie:
Jennifer Tall’s Kirkus-starred 2022 book, Spirit Valley Radio, features a strange Missouri pirate-radio station that, along with tunes and weather forecasts, broadcasts 1950s baseball games, 1930s sermons, and World War II–era air traffic control chatter. The wide-ranging tale encompasses a host of colorful characters, many of whom live in the titular valley that seems to be the origin of the uncanny frequencies. Our reviewer praises the book as a “beguiling fable that’s full of rich whimsy with a thoughtful bite.”
Radioland (2020) by m.e. Elzey explores a different part of the broadcast spectrum: conservative talk radio. Retired attorney Harry Chalberg gets involved in a lawsuit against a media company whose star attraction is Rush Limbaugh–like radio host Cal Brown. Chalberg wants to hold them accountable for spreading propaganda that may have inspired the man who killed his daughter and son-in-law. Kirkus’ reviewer calls the novel “a persuasive piece of political fiction” that “effectively examines the consequences of conservative media.”
The 2021 novel Talk Radio by Ham Martin approaches on-air conversation in a more lighthearted manner. It tells the tale of Vivien Kindler, who takes over a small-town Maine news show and causes a stir because, as Kirkus’ review puts it, she “wants to discuss poetry and town folklore but not the news of the day.” Our positive review highlights how the book “entertains the notion that other people can make a difference in one’s life if one just tunes in to the right frequency.”
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.