Night Flight’s “Atomic TV” took a satirical look at nuclear war hysteria in the ’80s “No Nukes”-era

By on September 20, 2017

Back in the 1980s, one of Night Flight’s most popular segments were our “Atomic TV” featurettes, which took a satirical look at nuclear war hysteria, both real and imagined, through mashed-up music videos and public domain movie clips.

You can now watch this episode — which first aired on April 15, 1988 — in your underground bunker or wherever you’re hiding out from the next atomic blast, real or imagined, on Night Flight Plus!

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“Atomic TV” was inspired by the 1982 documentary Atomic Café, released during the ’80s “No Nukes” era.

The film — which aired frequently on “Night Flight”– offered up a mish-mash of mostly public domain film clips of the 1940s and ’50s, set to a soundtrack of atomic-themed songs from the Cold War era.

Check out our previous post about Atomic Café and our post on 1980s computer-hacking in movies, featuring an excerpt about 1983’s WarGames.

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Our “Atomic TV” segments mainly focused on music videos which had some kind of “atomic” theme, with added footage of exploding atomic bombs.

This one featured videos by Donald Fagen (“New Frontier“), Crosby, Still and Nash, the Ramones, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Twisted Sister, James Brown, Alcatrazz, Joe “King” Carrasco, Rick Springfield, Devo, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Time Zone (“World Destruction”), Fishbone, and Sammy Hagar’s “VOA.”

Read more about Sammy Hagar and “Atomic TV” below.

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“VOA” — the title track of Hagar’s eighth solo studio album, released on July 23, 1984 — referred to the State Department’s “Voice of America” broadcast network.

The video featured Hagar parachuting into the Oval Office during a strategic war room-style meeting, complete with an actor resembling then-President Ronald Reagan.

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Hagar — self-dubbed “The Red Rocker,” a curious nickname for such an anti-Commie, uber-patriotic right-winger — would have his biggest success with the multi-platinum selling album, mainly because it also featured his “”I Can’t Drive 55″ hit.

The warmongerin’ lyrics — “Raise the Flag! Let it wave/Shoot them down to their graves, yeah!/Spread the news for all to hear/We’ve come to fight, let’s make that clear” — were penned by Hagar as a big “Fuck You!” to the Russkies after they pulled out of the 1984 Olympics.

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Speaking of Reagan, and threats of nuclear war with the Soviet Union — who he called an “evil empire” — we were probably the closest we’d ever come to having a nuclear war in the early ’80s (certainly since 1962’s “Cuban Missile Crisis”).

Years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we found out just how close we’d actually come to nuclear annihilation when a previously top secret government report from the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory board was released.

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The Soviet ‘War Scare’” maintained that “from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, the military forces and intelligence services of the Soviet Union were redirected in ways that suggested that the Soviet leadership was seriously concerned about the possibility of a sudden strike launched by the United States and its NATO allies.”

It was revealed to the world that just after midnight local time on September 26, 1983, the Soviet Union had determined that the United States had actually launched five nuclear-tipped ICBMs, and they were heading for Moscow.

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At the time, the U.S. were engaged in ten-day “war game” military exercises (code name: “Able Archer”), but the Soviet Union’s early warning satellite system had thought a real missile attack was imminent.

Tensions were already high at the time, as, earlier that same year, the Russians had shot down a Korean Air Lines plane that had drifted into their airspace, killing all 269 people onboard, including a U.S. congressman.

That had led to both countries exchanging dire warnings and threats, raising the tension levels even higher.

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Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov — who was on-duty in a secret bunker south of Moscow — had to determine if the Soviet system’s blaring sirens and alarm were giving accurate readings, or a false alarm.

It was Petrov’s responsibility to notify his bosses, who would then consult with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov.

Waiting for positive identification would limit their response time considerably, until it was too late to retaliate, as the American missiles could be striking their targets in just over twenty minutes.

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Petrov did not fully trust the early-warning missile defense system, which was new at the time, and had a gut feeling that was he was seeing was incorrect because he’d been trained to watch for an all-out nuclear assault instead of just a few missiles being detected.

He guessed correctly that it was a computer error and did nothing, and later no doubt breathed a sigh of relief realizing that he’d saved the entire world from nuclear annihilation.

Investigators determined later that sunlight on high-altitude clouds aligning with the satellite view on a U.S. missile base had caused a computer error.

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Sadly, Petrov was not praised by his countrymen for his quick actions, and he was actually reassigned work elsewhere.

We learned just this past week that Petrov died back on May 19, 2017, at age 77, at his home in Fryazino, a center for scientific research near Moscow.

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Lieutenant Col. Stanislav Petrov (from 2014’s The Man Who Saved the World, directed by Danish filmmaker Peter Anthony)

This week, in his United Nations speech, President Trump called North Korea‘s Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man,” and said he seems to be on “a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”

“The United States has great strength and patience,” said Trump, “but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Let’s hope we have our own American version of Stanislav Petrov keeping a close eye on North Korea’s missile systems.

Watch this episode of Night Flight’s popular “Atomic TV” on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.