“Radio Head” Was Inspired By The Guy Who Played Ned Ryerson In Groundhog Day

Any serious Radiohead fan knows that after wisely dropping On A Friday, they named themselves after “Radio Head,” a Talking Heads song from the 1986 album True Stories and David Byrne film of the same name. As Dangerous Minds points out, the song itself has a hell of a backstory, one that came to light on a recent episode of Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast. The guest was Stephen Tobolowsky, the actor best known for playing the wildly annoying Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. (FWIW, I recognized him as Sammy Jankis.) Tobolowsky co-wrote True Stories the movie with Byrne and Beth Hanley, and although he says Byrne threw out most of his contributions as a writer, at least one thing stuck. Tobolowsky claims to have a psychic ability to “hear” or “read” people’s “tones,” i.e. to perceive lots of information about a person just by being in the same room. He shared some of his experiences with this power with Byrne, and the rest is history. Here’s a transcript of Tobolowsky’s story as told to Hardwick:

So my girlfriend Beth at the time thought, “We have a real money-making thing here! … You know, we’ll have people pay a quarter or a dollar and have you read their tones.” She would round up people, bring ‘em in to the green room or whatever, and you would think it would be funny, but I would go, like, “Ah, you just got an inheritance and you want to know how you’re going to spend that money,” and they would get up and cry, and everyone would have these creepy, creepy, creepy feelings.

Beth loved me for it, and she thought, “This is so cool, what are my tones?” and I said, “I gotta quit doing this, because this is way creepy, and I don’t really like it.” So — while that 19 furious days that we were working on True Stories, Beth says, “Tell David. Because David wants to put all these true stories in his movie, Stephen. Tell him the true story about you hearing tones.” And I said, “No, baby, no, I don’t want” — “No, tell him the story about you hearing tones.”

So I sat and told David the story of me hearing tones. And he looked and says, “You’re kidding!” And I said, “No, David, that’s really the story but I don’t do it anymore, I don’t like to do it anymore, it was too creepy, and I don’t like to do it anymore.”

So anyway — sure enough, a year later, David has written into True Stories a character that hears tones, and he wrote the song. That day he came over and played “Wild Wild Life.” He says, “Here is a song that I wrote for you, Stephen.” And we put it in the thing, and it was “Radio Head.”

[Hardwick gasps.]

“I’m pickin’ up somethin’ good…. Radio Head….”

So Radiohead got their name from the song David Byrne wrote based on my psychic experiences when I was in college!

Hear the interview here; the anecdote starts around 40 minutes in.