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The Real Story Behind The Man Who Inspired The Hit Film ‘Radio’

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Radio

The film Radio, which starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the titular character, was based on the true story of James Robert “Radio” Kennedy, a mentally disabled man who became a treasured member of T.L. Hanna (S.C.) High School in Anderson, South Carolina. Sadly, the real Radio recently passed away but his legacy at Hanna lasts forever. Though most know Radio’s story from the movie, there were some facts that the film got right and others that weren’t true at all.

The True Story Compared To The Film

So what was accurate and what wasn’t? True to life, the film character of Radio carried around a shopping cart with random items in it, including a radio. In addition, Radio first began showing up at football practices at the high school in the mid-1960s, according to coach Harold Jones in a telephone interview with ESPN. So, those basic facts are on-point.

In other ways, director Mike Tollin and screenwriter Mike Rich seem to have taken some creative liberties to add conflict to the film. For example, the dates of Radio’s time at the school preceded Coach Jones’ tenure there in real life, though the film doesn’t mention this. The film also shows opposition from both the school board and the father of a star athlete while Coach Jones says that there was no conflict at all.

Another inaccurate plot point of the movie occurred when it depicted members of Hanna’s football team tying Radio up with tape and leaving him in the equipment shed. Though the real Radio did suffer some teasing from members of the team, Coach Jones revealed that the players never did anything like this to physically hurt Radio.  “When they first started talking about making a movie, I asked the school superintendent, ‘Did anyone ever call you up about Radio?’ And he said not once,” the coach revealed to ESPN

An Indelible Imprint

One thing the movie did get right was Radio’s impact on the community. The man was truly loved by the coaches and students at Hanna as well as the people in Anderson  He became a fixture at football practices and games. At first, Radio stood quietly around watched. However, he became a hit when he began to mimic the coaches’ signals and tried his hand at yelling out commands. His infectious energy, smiles, and hugs were appreciated by everyone.

Radio was considered to be a “permanent high school junior,” which meant that he would never have to graduate or leave the school. After Coach Jones retired in 1999, other coaches and faculty have stepped up to the plate of taking care of Radio while at Hanna. When a coach leaves or retires, the new one steps up to support Radio in any way he can.

Saying Goodbye

Sadly, Radio passed away on December 15, 2019, at the age of 73 after an ongoing battle with pancreatitis and other health issues. “Radio was the heart and soul of T.L. Hanna for over 50 years, and the impact he made in our community can’t be overstated,” Kyle Newton, a spokesman for Anderson School District 5, said in a statement. “He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the countless lives he touched.”

Shortly before Christmas, Radio lay in state at T.L. Hanna High School for many to say their final goodbye. Hanna’s football team also posted a loving message on Twitter in memory of Radio and his dedication to them over the years. “Thank you for living a life that inspired millions. The sidelines won’t be the same without you,” the tweet read.

Learn more about the life of James Robert “Radio” Kennedy in the clip below.

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