Article by Sydney Gaeth & Tia Jones | Photography by Neil Harman | Owl Staff

Mixed with guitar solos and saxophone riffs, the lyrics “Be a radio pirate” and “We wanna hear our own songs” are part of an original jig written by Associate Professor of Mass Communications, Wayne Hepler.

The song is featured at the end of his documentary, Taking Back the Airwaves: The Story of the Radio Pirates.

“I couldn’t get this song out of my head while we were filming so I thought I should write it down,” says Hepler.

Hepler has traveled America, Holland, and the United Kingdom to film a documentary about radio pirates.

“I think most people light up when they hear ‘pirates.’ They think ‘rebels,’ and in a sense that’s what they were — but these pirates just did it to hear what they wanted on the radio,” says Hepler.

The radio pirates emerged in the late 1950s when European airwaves were dominated by government broadcasting. It wasn’t too long before people figured out that they could broadcast from boats in international waters and not be restricted by laws.

“In America, we had ‘British Invasion’ galore while the Europeans only heard their music about an hour a week,” says Hepler.

The pirate radio stations were instantly popular because people were finally able to hear more of what they wanted.

The idea to learn about radio pirates came to Hepler during Graduate School at Ohio University in the late 1980s.

“[Making this film] was much more personal than just trying to spread information,” recalls Hepler. “I heard about pirate radio and immediately thought, ‘one day I’ve got to meet these guys.’”

Hepler’s excursions were not originally intended to produce a film. It became a film project when one of his students, Everett Glovier, suggested it.

Glovier eventually became Master Editor of the documentary.

“The pirate radio stations were instantly popular because people were finally able to hear more of what they wanted.”

“I was going to do a travel log and just share stories,” says Hepler. “[But]I’m used to doing things differently than planned…”

Another student of Hepler’s, Zach Meyers, became the main cameraperson. Meyers is also credited with coming up with the title.

These students traveled with Hepler overseas when he was granted a paid sabbatical from Harford Community College to pursue this project.

Since the beginning of production in the fall of 2011, Hepler has collected a number of experiences and stories he won’t soon forget.

In a British accent, one pirate recounted a horrifying experience of a boat fire made hilarious through his delivery of the story.

“[One pirate] started a boat fire in the middle of the English Channel and the broadcast is perfectly hearable. He was shouting, ‘they bombed us’ and ‘Mayday! Mayday!’ He was talking over the rock and roll songs he’d been playing,” says Hepler.

Get to know the unique stories of these airwave rebels in the finished film and look for a clip of the documentary on

Leave a Reply