For a while, filmmaker Wayne Hepler’s own reflection has been replaced by that of Waldo from the “Where’s Wally?” book.
The change started this year when Hepler, a native of Brandywine Hundred who now lives in Maryland, embarked on a journey that has taken him and his crew from Europe, and now throughout the United States to interview with active radio pirates for his film “The Pirate Radio Documentary,” slated to be completed before 2013.
On sabbatical from teaching as an assistant professor at Hartford Community College, this Tuesday Hepler will interview radio pirates in hiding throughout the country.
Q What gave you the idea to make a documentary on pirate radio?
A Graduate school. There was a professor named Drew McDaniel who mentioned the Dutch had actually incorporated, formally, illegal broadcasters into their mainstream system. I said someday I have to go and meet these people. That was back in 1989. By the time 2012 came along, I knew I had lost some people just by age.
Q What’s your angle for the film?
A My very first angle was really the fascination you heard that came from 1989 which was: “I’ve got to meet these people.” One of the big, basic things that I bet most Americans don’t realize is when we had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and all of that playing on our radio like crazy, in England and in continental Europe, they didn’t. They had next to no rock ‘n’ roll as of the mid-‘60s playing on their radio stations because of, basically, government control. So they might hear Beatles and Rolling Stones for maybe two hours a week, literally. It’s amazing to me that we were here in America hearing rock ‘n’ roll from 1954 on any station you wanted to turn on, but in 1964 they were barely hearing anything at all; and that’s why they went out on the water. They moved out onto international waters [to broadcast on boats] and said, “Well, if our own stations aren’t going to listen to us, then we’re going to go out and listen to ourselves and play for ourselves.”
Name Wayne Hepler
Hometown Brandywine Hundred
Education Mount Pleasant High School; Ohio University, BS; Ohio University, MA
Q A few years ago there was an article on a pirate radio DJ in England who said you’re probably not going to hear a lot of pirate radio stations today in the United States, since the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) cracks down way, too, hard here. Is there any truth to that statement?
Page 2 of 2 - A I’m actually about to go across the country and interview the American pirates; and that will be extremely different, because they’re very much in hiding. For me to get these interviews took an immense amount of trust on their part, because they don’t know me from a hole in the wall. They are getting busted; they are getting shutdown. And when they’re getting busted, it’s to the tune of a lot of money. So yes, you’re right, there are still American pirates. But they’re very much in hiding — either [broadcasting on] shortwave or FM — and they’re getting nailed.
Q Since finding music is more accessible today than it’s ever been, are active pirate radio stations more geared towards a talk-radio format than a music format in the United States and Europe?
A There’s a wide variation. If you tune to shortwave you could hear a guy doing a station called “Baby Time.” And when he goes on the air — well we assume it’s a he, we don’t know — you’ll hear a giggling, gurgling baby. Somebody else could be hearing professional music, jingles, deejaying and sounding every bit like American radio. And somebody else could be having more conversations that range more in the political [realm], or commentary on everyday life.
Q What are your plans after you complete the film?
A The Broadcast Education Association convention meets at the same time as the National Association of Broadcasters convention in April, so I’ll enter it there. There’s a local festival here, if I’m done in time, that asked me to enter it; it’s called the Town of Bel Air Film Festival. Winter SWL Fest, I kind of have an invitation there — nothing official yet. And I’m putting out feelers to Europe. One of my connections over there thought somebody might be interested in it.