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The Other Kind of Pirate Radio

Bilgemunky broadcasts on Internet “arrrr”-waves

Dec. 23, 2008
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"Avast, you scalawags. Bilgemunky Radio is preparing to air…" A robotic female voice with a British accent repeated this a few times shortly before 8 p.m. on a recent Monday night. Meanwhile, Gerard Heidgerken was cueing up to broadcast his weekly Internet pirate radio show.

In this case the term "pirate" doesn't refer to a broadcast that taps FCC-sanctioned airwaves, but rather to literal, swashbuckling pirates. Bilgemunky Radio features songs about pirates from mainstream bands and a surprising number of songs from pirate-themed bands, ranging from sea shanties and folk to metal, punk and hip-hop.

Heidgerken has enjoyed pirate lore from the time he was a child. He comes from a family with a naval background and served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Enterprise as a nuclear machinist mate from 1992-98.

His studio, near Marquette University, is exactly what you might expect: littered with all things pirate. There's a treasure trove of books, maps, bottles of rum, swords and a skull wearing a pirate hat. Above his computer, where he broadcasts his show, is his own pirate flag. It features a cartoon monkey wearing a tri-corner hat with a pair of crossing cutlasses beneath it.

The show, available live and as a podcast, has a small but devoted following from as far away as Scotland and Australia. As Heidgerken plays the rum-soaked tunes, he also takes requests via live chat and reports on pirate news-from video games and movies to important dates in pirate history. He dedicated a recent show to pirate Stede Bonnet, an important figure known as the "gentleman pirate." He was executed Dec. 10, 1718, just shy of 290 years before this broadcast.

Heidgerken's favorite pirate is a tough call, although he says he's partial to Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, "because of his theatrics." He also likes "Black Sam" Bellamy, who was engaged to a witch but went down with the ship before he could marry.

Heidgerken's show has developed quite a following in the "pirate community," getting a nice spread in the latest issue of Pirates magazine and a DJ gig at a pirate party in the virtual role-playing game Second Life. In addition to the radio show, he reviews pirate books, games, movies, rum and pirate clothing on his Web site.

He also interviews and gets station identifications from pirate celebrities like Lauren Maher, who had a small role as Scarlett, a slap-happy harlot, in all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

"You're listening to Bilgemunky radio, and I've got a message for all you Jack Sparrow wannabes out there," Maher snarls, followed by a slapping sound. The spot was recorded at a pirate-themed convention.

Pirate bands are scarce locally; Heidgerken says he is only familiar with two. Bounding Main has members in Racine and Chicago and specializes in sea shanties, and The Great Lakes Renegade, of Milwaukee, is a pirate-themed one-man band.

Heidgerken has no shortage of pirate-related material, with more than 1,200 tracks cataloged. He has even more for his "Bilgemunky after dark" specials, which feature dirty pirate songs for a more adult audience.

So what is it about pirates that has captured the public's imagination for so many years?

"I think people don't always need things to be washed and polished to find them attractive," Heidgerken explains. "We've had pirates in pop-culture since this country began. Pirates captured attention in newspapers, then movies, cartoons and Cap'n Crunch."

Bilgemunky Radio broadcasts live every Monday at 8 p.m. at bilgemunky.com/radio.


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