Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion

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Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion
Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion.jpg
An unidentified man dressed to resemble Max Headroom was visible in the intruding broadcast.
Date November 22, 1987 (1987-11-22)
Location WGN-TV
WTTW
Participants Unidentified
Outcome Unsolved

The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion was a television signal hijacking that occurred in Chicago, Illinois, United States on the evening of November 22, 1987. It is an example of what is known in the television business as broadcast signal intrusion. The intruder was successful in interrupting two broadcast television stations within the course of three hours. Neither the hijacker nor any accomplices have ever been found or identified.

WGN-TV[edit]

The first occurrence of the signal intrusion took place during then-independent station WGN-TV (channel 9)'s live telecast of its primetime newscast, The Nine O'Clock News (now known as WGN News at Nine). During Chicago Bears highlights in the sports report, the station's signal was interrupted for about half a minute by a video of a person wearing a Max Headroom mask,[1] moving around in front of a sheet of corrugated metal, which imitated the background effect used in the Max Headroom TV and movie appearances. There was no audio other than a buzzing noise. The hijack was stopped after engineers at WGN switched the frequency of their studio link to the John Hancock Center transmitter.[2]

The incident left sports anchor Dan Roan bemused, saying, "Well, if you're wondering what happened, so am I."[3]

WTTW[edit]

Later that night, around 11:15 p.m. Central Time, during a broadcast of the Doctor Who serial Horror of Fang Rock, PBS member station WTTW (channel 11)'s signal was hijacked using the same video that was broadcast during the WGN-TV hijack, this time with distorted audio.[1][3]

The unidentified man continued to laugh and utter various random and unrelated phrases, including New Coke's advertising slogan "Catch the Wave" while holding a Pepsi can (Max Headroom was a Coca-Cola spokesperson at the time), then tossing the can down, and giving the finger wearing a rubber extension over his middle finger (the gesture was cut off at the bottom of the screen due to the proximity of the camera) then retrieving the Pepsi can, and saying "Your love is fading", before removing the rubber extension, then began humming the theme song to Clutch Cargo, saying, "I still see the X!" (a reference to the final episode of the Clutch Cargo cartoon series). He began moaning painfully, crying "my piles!" (hemorrhoids), then a flatulence sound was heard and he stated that he had "made a giant masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds" (the WGN call letters used by the Chicago television station as well as its sister radio station are an abbreviation for "World's Greatest Newspaper", in reference to the flagship newspaper of their corporate parent, the Tribune Company's Chicago Tribune). He then held up a glove and said, "My brother is wearing the other one," and he put the glove on, commenting that it was "dirty".

The picture suddenly cut over to a shot of the man's lower torso. His buttocks were exposed, and he was holding the now-removed mask up to the camera (with the rubber extension now placed in the mouth of the mask), howling, "They're coming to get me!" An unidentified accomplice wearing a French maid outfit then said "Bend over, bitch" and spanked the man with a flyswatter. The transmission then blacked out for a few seconds before resuming to Doctor Who in progress; the hijack lasted for about 90 seconds.[3]

WTTW, which maintained its transmitter atop the Sears Tower, found that its engineers were unable to stop the hijacker. According to station spokesman Anders Yocom, technicians monitoring the transmission "attempted to take corrective measures, but couldn't."[4] "By the time our people began looking into what was going on, it was over," he told the Chicago Tribune. WTTW was able to find copies of the hijacker's telecast with the help of Doctor Who fans who had been taping the show.[2]

Reaction[edit]

WTTW and WGN-TV joined HBO (which had a similar incident occur 20 months earlier) as victims of broadcast signal intrusion.[5] The Max Headroom incident made national headlines and was reported on the CBS Evening News the next day. WTTW received numerous phone calls from viewers who wondered what was occurring for the duration of the station being targeted.[6]

Not long after the incident, WMAQ-TV humorously inserted clips of the hijacking into a newscast during Mark Giangreco's sports highlights. "A lot of people thought it was real – the pirate cutting into our broadcast. We got all kinds of calls about it," said Giangreco.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Hayner, Don (1987-11-24). "2 channels interrupted to the Max". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 3. CHI265386. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  2. ^ a b Camper, John and Steve Daley (1987-11-24). "A powerful prankster could become Max Jailroom". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. 
  3. ^ a b c "Remember, Remember the 22nd of November". Damn Interesting. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 
  4. ^ Carmody, John (1987-11-24). "NBC Lands Gorbachev Interview (The TV Column)". Washington Post. p. D1. 95520. 
  5. ^ "Bogus 'Max Headroom' Interrupts Broadcasts On 2 Chicago Stations". Philadelphia Inquirer. 1987-11-24. p. C05. 8703130089. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  6. ^ The Associated Press (November 24, 1987). "Bogus Max Headroom pirates 2 TV stations, drops his pants". The Palm Beach Post. p. 3A. 
  7. ^ Ruane, John (1988-01-01). "Casting final look at '87. Local sportscasters recall year's memorable events". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 94. 

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