Radio K.A.O.S

For other uses, see Radio KAOS.

Radio K.A.O.S.
Roger Waters
Released 15 June 1987
(see release history)
Recorded October – December 1986
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
Radio K.A.O.S.
The Wall – Live in Berlin
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 bassist and singer/songwriter, Roger Waters. It was released on 15 June 1987 in the United Kingdom and is notably the first solo album by Waters after his split from Pink Floyd two years previously in 1985.

Radio K.A.O.S., like his previous studio album and many works of his during his time with Pink Floyd, is a concept album. The album is based around a number of key factors of politics in the late 1980s – monetarism, and its effect on citizens. It also makes criticisms of Margret Thatcher's government, much like Pink Floyd's The Final Cut, another album Waters was the author for. Other influences also include popular culture of the 80s, and the choices and consequences of the Cold War and its effect on world politics and society. 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, Radio K.A.O.S. 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. "Sunset Strip" charted at number 15 on the United States mainstream chart, "The Tide Is Turning" charted at number 54 in the UK, and "Who Needs Information", which failed to chart.


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 dim view of LA 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 stem from 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 England 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]


Radio K.A.O.S. tells the story of Billy, a 23-year-old man from Wales. 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 has a twin brother Benny who is a coal miner. Billy lives with Benny, Benny's 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 (Track 2 "Who Needs Information"). 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 L.A.. Billy is gifted and can hear radio waves in his head ("Radio Waves" track 1), so 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, he learns to speak through them. He calls a radio station in L.A. named Radio KAOS (hence the album title) 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 whilst 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).

The album is dedicated "to all those who find themselves at the violent end of monetarism."


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, but this never appeared.

  • The working title for the album was "Home", and Waters has said in interviews that he considers the song "Home" to express the central theme of the album.
  • Waters was on the list of artists considered for Live Aid, but ended up being cut (Pink Floyd bandmate David Gilmour played, but only as the guitarist for Bryan Ferry). Watching the event on television, Waters was so inspired that he wrote "The Tide Is Turning", without knowing what album it would end up on.
  • The closing song "The Tide Is Turning" was only added as a supposed "happy ending" by Waters when EMI told him that the album was too bleak to sell.
  • The producer of the album, Ian Ritchie, is currently (2006, 2007 and 2008) part of Roger's touring band playing saxophone.
  • Some CD presses are labelled with an incorrect Patent date of 1967 which should read 1987.
  • The voice of Billy was generated by the BBC microcomputer program Speech!, written by David Hoskins the year before.


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 as well, 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]
Piero Scaruffi 6/10[8]

Radio K.A.O.S. 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. Radio K.A.O.S. was first released on 15 June 1987 in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Upon release, the album was met with mixed reviews from critics. While J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone gave the album a positive review, highlighting the album as no means perfect, but "very powerful",[7] the themes and style of the album were criticised heavily critics, although deemed the record to be an improvement on Waters's debut studio album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.[1]

Roger Waters himself, since the release of the album in 1987, has also even expressed his dislike for Radio K.A.O.S. and the effort put into creating it.[1] He confessed in an interview that he was disappointed at the outcome of the record, and the attempt to make the album sound "modern" had in effect ruined the record for him personally. He stated:

"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 has been gaining more positive reviews. Mike DeGagne of Allmusic gave the album a mixed review, stating that while the album manages to convey the music more than the narrative, unlike in most of Waters's works, he wrote: "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. Allmusic gave the album three-and-a-half stars.[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]


"Radio Waves" was released as the lead single from the album on 11 May 1987. The single was the first release on the Compact Disc for Roger Waters, with the single being released as a 7" single, a 12" Extended play single and a CD single.[9] The song impacted both the American and British charts in the month of release, but only charted mildly in both regions. It reached number 74 on the UK Singles chart, and number 12 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.[10]

"Sunset Strip" was released as the second single from Radio K.A.O.S in September 1987. Despite the song itself not being released as a promo to American and British radio stations, and competing against his former band whose then-current single, "Learning to Fly", was topping the United States Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it managed to chart at number 15 on the same chart during its time at number one.[11]

"The Tide Is Turning" was released as the third and final single from Radio K.A.O.S. in the United Kingdom and Australia.[9] The single, without direct competition with his former band mates, 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.

"Who Needs Information" was released as the third and final single from Radio K.A.O.S. in the United States.[9] Released as a single in December 1987, it came in direct competition with Pink Floyd's "On The Turning Away" which was also released as a single in December 1987. While Pink Floyd's single topped the US Mainstream Rock charts back to back,[12] "Who Needs Information" failed to chart, despite a radio promotional release.


Main article: Radio K.A.O.S. (tour)

The Radio K.A.O.S. tour lasted 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 was the largest of Waters's career up to that point and featured extravagant staging, props and video. The entirety of the concert was treated as a K.A.O.S. radio special; K.A.O.S. on the Road and featured deejay Jim Ladd in between many songs; introducing them, conversing with Billy or simply complimenting Roger and the band on their performance. The screen used for the tour featured various video footage of Roger, Jim and various other actors playing out aspects of the songs. It also featured animations and real footage of what the songs represented. The concert was 'interrupted' by Billy at one point each night and he played the video to the début Pink Floyd single "Arnold Layne", in remembrance of Syd Barrett. Prior to each show commencing, Jim Ladd took calls from people in a special booth and these calls were then answered by Roger. The person in each booth was usually chosen via a competition on local radio stations, keeping in the theme of the concert. The set-list included the entire Radio K.A.O.S. album, with other popular Waters-composed Pink Floyd songs mixed into the sequence, and typically lasted more than two and a half hours.

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[13] 50

Release history

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


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