Radio K.A.O.S.

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Radio K.A.O.S.
Studio album by Roger Waters
Released 15 June 1987
(see release history)
Recorded October – December 1986 at the Billiard Room, London
Genre Progressive rock
Length 41:24
Label EMI (UK),
Columbia Records (US)
Producer Roger Waters, Ian Ritchie and Nick Griffiths
Roger Waters chronology
When the Wind Blows
(1986)When the Wind Blows1986
Radio K.A.O.S.
The Wall – Live in Berlin
(1990)The Wall – Live in Berlin1990
Roger Waters studio chronology
The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
Radio K.A.O.S.
Amused to Death
Singles from Radio K.A.O.S.
  1. "Radio Waves"
    Released: 11 May 1987
  2. "Sunset Strip"
    Released: 12 September 1987
  3. "The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)"
    Released: 16 November 1987
  4. "Who Needs Information"
    Released: 21 December 1987

Radio K.A.O.S. is the second studio album by British rock musician and former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters. Released on 15 June 1987 in the United Kingdom, it was Waters' first album after his split from Pink Floyd in 1985.

Like his previous and future studio albums and many works of his during his time with Pink Floyd, this is a concept album. The album is based on a number of key factors of politics in the late 1980s including monetarism and its effect on citizens, popular culture of the time, and the events and consequences of the Cold War. It also makes criticisms of Margaret Thatcher's government, much like Pink Floyd's The Final Cut, another album conceived by Waters.

The album follows Billy, a mentally and physically disabled man from Wales, who is forced to live with his uncle David in Los Angeles after his brother Benny was sent to prison after protesting against the government, following his dismissal from his job in mining due to "market forces". The album explores Billy's mind and view on the world through an on-air conversation between him and Jim, a DJ at a local fictitious radio station named Radio K.A.O.S.

Internationally, the album only charted in two countries, peaking at number 25 in the United Kingdom and number 50 in the United States. The album spawned four singles in 1987. "Radio Waves" was released as the lead single from the album, charting at number 74 in the UK, as well as #12 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks in the U.S., "Sunset Strip" charted at number 15 on the Rock Tracks chart, "The Tide Is Turning" charted at number 54 in the UK, and "Who Needs Information", which failed to chart. Waters also made a Video EP for this album featuring the songs "Radio Waves," "Sunset Strip," "Fish Report," "Four Minutes," and "The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)."

Background and inspiration

In 1979 Waters met Jim Ladd for a radio documentary on The Wall album. It was the beginning of a friendship which remains today. Jim Ladd was an inspiration as he brought some light into Waters's dim view of L.A. life, initially through listening to the bizarre Fish Report from KMET. Waters became increasingly interested in Ladd's plight with his radio station KMET, and his eventual sacking to change the programming format of the station in search of market researched profits. In 1985, Waters wrote a song called "Get Back To Radio," which seemed to be partly based on the experiences of Ladd, and partly from childhood memories – Waters fondly remembers listening to Radio Luxembourg well into the night as a child.

An event from the 1985 miners' strike in Britain where a striking worker threw a concrete block off a motorway bridge, killing a taxi driver who was taking a working miner to his job, seemed to register in Waters's subconscious, emerging in the second song written, "Who Needs Information" and later, "Me or Him". With this example of how far people will go to pursue their monetary goals, Waters began to formulate the ideas for his first full solo album since leaving Pink Floyd. The album, with a working title of Home, took only three months to record, developed from 16 songs throughout 1986 and was worked into a now familiar Waters concept album.[1]


The popular culture of Los Angeles and the radio industry in the area at the time was the inspiration for the fictional Radio K.A.O.S. station that plays a significant role in the album.

Billy is a 23-year-old Welshman from the South Wales Valleys. He is mentally and physically disabled, confined to a wheelchair and only able to work his upper body.[2] Though he is conceived as mentally challenged, his disability has actually made him not only a genius, but also superhuman, as he also has the ability to literally hear radio waves throughout all frequencies without aid.[3]

Billy was living with his twin brother Benny, who was a coal miner, wife Molly, and their children. Unfortunately, Benny has lost his job in the mines due to the "market forces". One night, Benny and Billy are out on a pub crawl when they pass a shop full of TV screens broadcasting Margaret Thatcher's "mocking condescension". Benny vents his anger on this shop and steals a cordless phone. Next, in theatrical fashion, Benny poses on a footbridge in protest to the closures; the same night, a taxi driver is killed by a concrete block dropped from a similar bridge ("Who Needs Information" – track 2). The police question Benny, who hides the phone in Billy's wheelchair.

Benny is taken to prison, and Molly, unable to cope, sends Billy to live with his uncle David in Los Angeles, California, USA. Since Billy can hear radio waves in his head ("Radio Waves" – track 1), he begins to explore the cordless phone, recognising its similarity to a radio. He experiments with the phone and is able to access computers and speech synthesisers, and learns to speak through them. He calls a radio station in L.A. named Radio KAOS and tells them of his life story about his brother being in jail ("Me or Him" – track 3), about his sister-in-law not being able to cope and sending him to L.A. to live with his uncle Dave ("Sunset Strip" – track 5), and about the closures of the mines ("Powers That Be" – track 4).

Billy eventually hacks into a military satellite and fools the world into thinking nuclear ICBMs are about to be detonated at major cities all over the world while deactivating the military's power to retaliate ("Home" – track 6, and "Four Minutes" – track 7). The album concludes with a song about how everyone, in thinking they were about to die, realises that the fear and competitiveness peddled by the mass media is much less important than their love for family and the larger community. ("The Tide Is Turning" – track 8).

Waters dedicated the album "to all those who find themselves at the violent end of monetarism."[citation needed]


Recording was done with the aid of his Bleeding Heart Band. Eight songs were used on the album, with two more appearing as B-side demos ("Get Back to Radio," and "Going to Live in LA") and another being performed live ("Molly's Song"). Waters even once said in an interview that he might even release an EP with some unreleased songs from this project for those who might be interested,[citation needed] but this never appeared. The album was recorded at Waters' own personal studio in London called The Billiard Room and mixed at Odyssey Studios in London.


Morse Code is a central theme in the art and style of the album, visually and audibly. The artwork for the album, designed by Kate Hepburn, are written Morse Code sentences in green imprinted on a black background. The translation spans both the front and the back of the sleeve. The front cover reads ROGER/WATERS/RADIO/KAOS/WHONE/EDSINF/ORMA/TIONTH. The back cover reads EPOWE/RSTHAT/BEHO/METHETI/DEISTU/RNING/RADIO/WAVES. When translated as a whole, the artwork spells out the name of the artist, the album, and five tracks from the album. It reads: Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S., "Who Needs Information", "The Powers That Be", "Home", "The Tide Is Turning" and "Radio Waves".[4] The code on the artwork is also heard throughout the album itself, most notably at the beginning and end of the album, book-ending the piece in the same manner as the heartbeat from Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon and the bleeding heart band from The Wall.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars[5]
Robert Christgau B[6]
Rolling Stone favourable[7]
Waters felt a moral disappointment with the album, even going as far as saying he regrets recording the album.

The record was first announced via a press release from EMI on 6 April 1987, confirming Waters's new album, its details and release date.[1] The press release mentioned that the project was conceived to be a full-out rock opera, complete with a stage show, film and live album, much like Waters's original vision for the album.

The album was first released on 15 June 1987 in the United Kingdom and the United States, and was met with mixed reviews. J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone gave the album a positive review, highlighting the album as "by no means perfect," but "powerful";[7] although the themes and style of the album were criticised, he deemed the record to be an improvement on Waters's debut studio album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.[1]

Since the release, Waters has expressed his dislike for the album and the effort put into creating it.[1] He confessed in an interview that the attempt to make the album sound "modern" had ruined the record:

"Between Ian Ritchie and myself, we really fucked that record up. We tried too hard to make it sound modern. I allowed myself to get pushed down roads that were uncomfortable for me. I should never have made that record."

Over time, however, the album gained more positive reviews. Mike DeGagne of Allmusic gave the album three-and-a-half stars, stating that the album, unlike some of Waters's other works, manages to convey the music more than the narrative, but also that "While both The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking and Amused to Death convey his talented use of concept, imagination, and lyrical mastery, this album seems to be nothing more than a fictional tale with a blatantly apparent message."[5] Robert Christgau gave the album a B, writing: "In which Waters's wheelchair-bound version of the deaf, dumb, and blind boy learns to control the world's computers with his cordless phone, then simulates impending nuclear holocaust just to scare the shit out of the powers that be. I have serious reservations about any record that can't be enjoyed unless you sit there reading the inner sleeve, but this is not without its aural rewards — a coverable song or two and some nice comping on shakuhachi, as well as the deep engineering that made Floyd famous. As pretentious goes, not stupid."[6]


The lead single from the album, "Radio Waves", was released on 11 May 1987 as a 7" single, a 12" Extended play single, and a CD single.[8] The song briefly went into both the American and British charts in the month of release, reaching number 74 on the UK Singles chart and number 12 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.[9]

"Sunset Strip" was released as the second single in September 1987. Despite the song not being released as a promo to American and British radio stations, and competing against Waters's former band whose single "Learning to Fly" was topping the United States Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it managed to go as high as number 15.[10]

"The Tide Is Turning" was released as the third single in the United Kingdom and Australia.[8] Without direct competition from Waters's former band, the single was a commercial success in Europe. It charted at number 54 on the UK singles chart and has since become a cult classic among Roger Waters fans.[citation needed]

"Who Needs Information" was released in the United States in December 1987 as the fourth and final single,[8] in direct competition with Pink Floyd's "On The Turning Away". While Pink Floyd's singles topped the US Mainstream Rock charts back to back,[11] "Who Needs Information" failed to chart, despite a radio promotional release.


The Radio K.A.O.S. tour ran from mid-August 1987 to the end of November of the same year. It was entirely in North America except for the final two shows from Wembley, England. The tour, the largest of Waters's career up to that point, featured extravagant staging, props, and video. The entirety of the concert was presented as a K.A.O.S. radio special, "K.A.O.S. on the Road", and featured deejay Jim Ladd introducing the songs, conversing with Billy, or simply complimenting Roger and the band on their performance. The screen used for the tour displayed video of Roger, Jim, and various other actors playing out aspects of the narrative, as well as animations and video illustrating the songs. The concert was 'interrupted' at one point each night by Billy, who played the video to the début Pink Floyd single "Arnold Layne", in remembrance of Syd Barrett.

Prior to each show, Jim Ladd took calls from people in a booth and these calls were then answered by Roger. The person in each booth was usually chosen via a competition on local radio stations, in keeping with the theme of the concert. The set-list included the entire Radio K.A.O.S. album, with popular Waters-composed Pink Floyd songs mixed into the sequence, and typically lasted more than two and a half hours.

The tour went heavily into debt, with Waters using his own money at one point to underwrite the expense, as Waters' demands for exclusivity while performing resulted in massive overruns and delays. The tour was proposed to go worldwide, but due to financial considerations these discussions never went any further, and the tour ended.


  • The Ronald Reagan campaign ads during "Me or Him" are sampled from an actual 1980 political advertisement of Reagan's[12][13]

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Roger Waters. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Radio Waves"   4:58
2. "Who Needs Information"   5:55
3. "Me or Him"   5:23
4. "The Powers That Be"   4:36
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "Sunset Strip"   4:45
2. "Home"   6:00
3. "Four Minutes"   4:00
4. "The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)"   5:43



Chart (1987) Peak
UK Albums Chart 25
US Billboard 200[14] 50

Release history

Region Date Format Label Catalog no.
Argentina[1] 15 June 1987 LP Columbia Records 120,935
Australia[15] LP, CD CBS Records 450518 1 (LP)
450518 2 (CD)
Brazil[15] 230,506 (LP)
2 040795 (CD)
Canada[15] Columbia Records FC 40795 (LP)
VCK 40795 (CD)
France[15] EMI 2407831 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Germany[15] 064 24 0783 1 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Greece[15] 062-240783 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Israel[15] LP Columbia Records KAOS 1-1
Italy[15] LP, CD EMI 64-2407831 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Japan[15] LP CBS Records / Sony Records 28 AP 3361
New Zealand[15] LP, CD CBS Records 450518 1 (LP)
450518 2 (CD)
South Africa[1] LP CBS Records ASF 3161
Spain[15] LP, CD EMI 074 240783 1(LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Turkey[1] LP KENT PR 2215
United Kingdom[1][15] LP, CD, Cassette EMI KAOS 1 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
United States[1][15] LP, CD Columbia Records FC 40795 (LP)
CK 40795 (CD)
Yugoslavia[15] Jugoton, EMI 11170 (LP)
CDKAOS1 (CD, Issue 1)
CDP 7 46865 2 (CD, Issue 2)
Worldwide[16] 10 January 2003 Digital download EMI, Columbia n/a
Europe[17] 14 January 2003 CD Columbia Records 509591 2
Japan[18] 1 March 2005 Sony Music Entertainment Japan MHCP 692


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