The story of Grand Theft Auto 3’s revolutionary Chatterbox FM radio station

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Listening to the radio while driving around the Liberty City neighborhoods is one of Grand Theft Auto III’s greatest pleasures, due to the licensed music, quirky personalities, and ridiculous commercials. It’s all about trying to pilot the Dodo or rampaging through the streets in an armored tank. But while there was a plethora of entertaining stations to listen to, one of them became a major traffic fixture in GTA III: Chatterbox FM.

Unlike other stations, Chatterbox did not stream any music. Instead, he ran an hour-long talk show, pitting his presenter, the singular Lazlow, against a series of obscene callers. Grand Theft Auto previously included radio stations full of licensed music to listen to, and Grand Theft Auto 2 introduced DJ jokes and commercials into the mix, but Chatterbox brought a new style of real radio to virtual airwaves. The show provided wacky, satirical commentary on early 21st century American culture through the cavalcade of guests interviewed by Lazlow. The conversations offered a unique glimpse into the weird world beyond the events of the game, and hinted at what any pedestrian you’ve passed (or maybe more specifically for chaotic spirits) might be thinking when they’re not running. away from our bat-wielding protagonist.

This year marks 20 years since players had the chance to log into Chatterbox FM for the first time, so to celebrate we spoke to those who brought the station to life, including its host Lazlow and the voice actors. Reed Tucker and Frank Chavez. . They told us how the station was originally born, the cigarette and pizza-fueled writing sessions that led to its wildest moments, and the odd celebrity status that accompanied its DJ after the success. game surprise.

But first, we need to talk about Lazlow.

Who is “Lazlow”?

Lazlow has appeared in several GTA games since, but Grand Theft Auto III was his standout debut. GTA III saw Lazlow playing an over the top version of himself – his full name is Lazlow Jones – who leaned into a deadpan delivery and easy exacerbation with his guests.

While Grand Theft Auto III was in development, Lazlow worked at a digital advertising agency in New York City called Blue Dingo (named after his dog) while also hosting a tech and video game-focused radio show called Technofile. As he explains, he got involved in Grand Theft Auto almost by accident.

Lazlow (image courtesy of Lazlow Jones).

Lazlow and Houser populated Chatterbox FM with a cast of original characters to give the fictional Lazlow plenty to play with, including everyone from a British expat named Freddy, who would continue to call the station to express his nanny fetish. , to a worried parent who insisted on video games distorting his son’s mind. While most of the humor was crude in nature – well in keeping with the tone of GTA as a whole – there were moments that mocked more serious topics, such as gun ownership and conscription. military. Like the rest of GTA, the goal was to do a general satire of the American experience.

Lazlow explained that they weren’t really inspired by the news because things get dated quickly. The goal was rather to touch on a more universal madness. “It’s more that we both discuss the madness of the world and our past. The show’s first visitor is actually my dad who talks about eating squirrels and pigeons. For the record, we never ate these things growing up in Oklahoma, but we did eat some pretty weird stuff. Like fried gizzards after church.

“The show’s first visitor is actually my dad who talks about eating squirrels and pigeons.”

Although scripted and fictional, they naturally suited Lazlow given his radio work and the fact that he was obsessed with radio from a young age. Growing up, he had police radio scanners scattered around the house, a product of one of his father’s many jobs – namely when he was an undercover narcotics officer. He found himself constantly listening to strange conversations on scanners and FM radios, a habit he still maintains today. “I have a habit of constantly scanning the dial of the radio in the car,” Lazlow says. “It drives everyone crazy. But you hear amazing things. I was recently driving in rural Oregon and heard some great tips on how to keep demons out of your house. This obviously involves buying several CDs of choral music and putting a CD player in each room that blows them up in loop 24 hours a day. I wanted to call and suggest a Sonos or Bluetooth system, but they quickly moved on to the subject. barbecues in the Bible.

Chatterbox’s typical segment structure mirrored conventional radio phone conversations: callers would phone and talk to Lazlow about whatever they thought, meaning topics ranged from taxes to activism to puppets. . As the conversations started out civilly enough, Lazlow would inevitably become increasingly annoyed by the caller’s inevitable interruptions and outbursts, ultimately frustrating him to the point of cutting the caller short to get to the next person on the line. .

Talking heads

According to Lazlow, Dan and Sam Houser decided early on that he should host Chatterbox to add some authenticity to the station. This philosophy also extended to the callers, who were mostly made up of neighbors and friends of Lazlow who were kind enough to lend their voices (including his aforementioned father). As a result, most of the callers you hear aren’t actors at all, but people he knew and recorded over the phone or in person in his home studio.

Meanwhile, for the show’s “bossy” guests – love guru Fernando Martinez and wimpy self-help author Reed Tucker – Lazlow recruited two of his colleagues from his advertising jobs and the radio. Unlike the other callers, Lazlow recorded these interviews in the same building as his digital advertising agency, just down the road from the Rockstar offices. Neither performer had done a lot of dubbing before.

“I was a terrible actor, and not a voice actor, but he was like, ‘Do you wanna do that? “” said Reed Tucker, who played the karate teacher turned self-taught writer. “I had never even heard of Grand Theft Auto back then. I think there are two reasons he brought me on board. One because I was his friend and that’s cool. to work with his friends, and two, because I was sitting close to him.

“I think there are two reasons why he brought me on board. One because I was his friend and it’s cool to work with your friends, and two, because I was two seated. feet from him. “
Frank Chavez (image courtesy of Lazlow Jones)
Frank Chavez (image courtesy of Lazlow Jones)

Grand Theft Auto III was to achieve massive success and launch the series into an institution, and while many aspects of it were praised at the time, Chatterbox was cited as a highlight. “GTA III became the best-selling game of 2001 and was so iconic that it was ported to cell phones in 2011.

“The day the game came out, Terry walked past my house and dropped off a copy,” Lazlow recalls. “I put it in my PS2 and was blown away – couldn’t believe I was a part of this thing. The radio itself was great, but it was a little piece of a much bigger picture. great. This game was revolutionary on many levels. And it was thanks to the vision of Dan and Sam, the Rockstar team in New York and the guys in Scotland – especially Craig Conner – who made all radio a big one. I will always be grateful to them for being part of the team.

After launch, Lazlow bought some of the voice actors – mostly his friends and family – PlayStation 2s and copies of the game so they could engage in their work. It was only then that those involved began to realize the scope of the project and the role they were playing in it. To this day, Lazlow, Tucker, and Chavez still occasionally receive fan messages from those who overheard them on Chatterbox in 2001, which often takes them by surprise. For Tucker, in particular, who now writes for the New York Post, it’s become an odd footnote in his career, and one that comes up frequently in new and interesting ways.

After launch, Lazlow bought some of the voice actors – mostly his friends and family – PlayStation 2s and copies of the game so they could engage in their work.

“I remember living on the Upper East Side and received a fan letter in the mail,” Tucker said. “Which I found very, very strange, because you know I’m nobody. I am not a voice actor. You can’t look for me. There is no reason anyone would have thought that the Reed Tucker in the game was the real Reed Tucker. And then, how do you manage to get my address? I was like ‘How are you so attached to a stupid character that we voiced in 30 seconds in a game that’s an expansive world?’ I think that’s when I clicked, ‘Oh, that means a lot to people.’ “

Chavez, meanwhile, has had his own share of fan encounters, with most people asking him to speak as his character to them.

“In terms of notoriety, it was amazing,” Chavez recalled. “A friend of mine took me to a bar in the village and he said to the bartender, ‘Do you know who this guy is? This guy is Fernando from GTA. ‘ The guy was running around screaming, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe it’s Fernando.’ “

After Grand Theft Auto III, Lazlow and Fernando became mainstays of the series, with Chavez even getting his own station, Emotion, in the follow-up to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Chavez has since appeared in all of the following games with the exception of Grand Theft Auto IV – something Rockstar immediately rectified in Grand Theft Auto V after a successful fan campaign for its comeback.

And while Chatterbox FM has clearly become an integral part of GTA’s DNA, it has also clearly inspired the wider open world genre. Almost all of the big city games have radio stations, like Mafia 3 and Watch Dogs: Legion, which are used to flesh out the world and keep the player entertained. But Grand Theft Auto III’s Chatterbox FM defined the model, created its own stars and forever cemented its wild conversations as a key part of the fabric of Grand Theft Auto.


Jack Yarwood is a freelance writer who writes primarily about the video game industry. He has written for Fanbyte, Wireframe Magazine, and The Washington Post, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @JackGYarwood.


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