The story of Kirby Kyle, the ill fated baseball player, is a parody of former Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, whose promising career was derailed after he lost part of his leg due to a hunting accident. Stratton attempted a comeback, and then retired. His life was made into a movie: The Stratton Story (1949).
The scene where Joe sees a German U Boat at the beach has some basis in fact. Some U Boats were sent to America on secret missions, and had to enter New York harbor by entering through the Rockaway inlets to get into Lower New York bay.
Of the music in this film, Woody Allen has said in an interview with Stig Björkman: "It originated from an idea that I wanted to pick out a group of songs that were meaningful to me, and each one of those songs suggested a memory. Then this idea started to evolve: how important radio was to me when I was growing up, and how important and glamorous it seemed to everyone".
For Diane Keaton's song cameo, Woody Allen made sure her song was a potent tune since Keaton was only going to be in the one small sequence. Allen chose Cole Porter's standard "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" for Keaton.
The amusement park young Joe walks by in the film is old Rockaway Playland located in Rockaway Beach, New York. The park was in its last year of operation when the film was being made in 1987 and was subsequently closed and demolished. After remaining an empty lot for many years the property, in the late nineties, had been developed with houses built on it. Ironically the Beach 98th train station on the IND A train still holds the name PLAYLAND in its station name.
A scene featuring Chris Elliott was cut from the film; in 2011 he recalled: "I'd had a beard at the time, and I think they didn't think my mustache looked the proper period. So they had me shave my beard to a mustache. And, boy, did I look odd."
The picture is a nostalgic tribute to the "Golden Age of Radio". According to Wikipedia, this era, also known as "Old-Time Radio", "refers to a period of radio programming in the United States lasting from the proliferation of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s until television's replacement of radio as the primary home entertainment medium in the 1950s. During this period, when radio was dominant and filled with a variety of formats and genres, people regularly tuned in to their favorite radio programs".
Names of some of the radio shows were "Guess That Tune"; "The Whizz Kids"; "The Masked Avenger"; "Breakfast With Irene and Roger"; "The Court of Human Emotions"; and "Sally White and Her Great White Way".
Woody Allen once said of this film in an interview with Stig Björkman: I think of Radio Days (1987) basically as a cartoon. If you look at my mother, my Uncle Abe, my schoolteacher, my grandparents, they were supposed to be cartoon exaggerations of what my real-life people were like".
The picture fared better at the British Academy Awards in comparison to the American Oscars where it garnered seven BAFTA nominations compared to just the two stateside where there it won neither. At the BAFTAs, it was nominated for Best Film, Sound, Editing, Original Screenplay, and Supporting Actress (Dianne Wiest) and won two, for Best Costume Design and Production Design.
One of five cinema movie collaborations of Woody Allen and actress Dianne Wiest. In two of them, Wiest won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Wiest also appeared in Allen's other 1987 movie September (1987).
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1988, for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Writing - Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, the latter for Woody Allen, but the picture failed to win an Oscar in either category, losing to The Last Emperor (1987) and John Patrick Shanley for Moonstruck (1987) respectively.
The character of Joe played by Seth Green represents the alter-ego persona of Woody Allen. Allen also narrates the film in the first person reflecting his life experiences with radio. The movie is considered an Allen auto-biographical picture.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The story of Polly Phelps, the little girl who has fallen down a well, was based on a real-life event. In April, 1949, three-year-old Kathy Fiscus fell down a well shaft in San Marino, California. Attempts to rescue her were covered live on radio and television, and the event became a media circus. A team of workers dug down 100 feet, and reached Kathy, but discovered she had died soon after the fall, due to a lack of oxygen. As with Polly Phelps' death in the movie, the somber announcement of Kathy's death was made live on the radio.