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Max Headroom sign hijacking – Wikipedia

Max Headroom sign hijacking – Wikipedia

2023-11-23 07:13:37

1987 Chicago tv hijacking incident

Max Headroom sign hijacking

The unidentified hijacker dressed to resemble Max Headroom within the pirate broadcast
Date November 22, 1987; 36 years in the past (1987-11-22)
Venue WGN-TV
Location Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Individuals 3 (unidentified)

On the evening of November 22, 1987, the television indicators of two stations in Chicago, Illinois, have been hijacked, briefly sending a pirate broadcast of an unidentified individual carrying a Max Headroom masks and costume to hundreds of dwelling viewers.[1][2][3][4]

The primary incident befell throughout the sports activities phase of impartial TV station WGN-TV‘s 9:00 p.m. newscast. Just like the later sign intrusion, it featured an individual carrying a masks swaying erratically in entrance of a swiveling corrugated metal panel, apparently meant to resemble Max Headroom’s animated geometric background. In contrast to the later intrusion, the one sound was a loud buzz. This interruption went on for nearly 17 seconds earlier than engineers at WGN have been capable of regain management of their broadcast tower.

The second incident occurred about two hours later throughout PBS member station WTTW‘s broadcast of the Doctor Who serial Horror of Fang Rock. With no one on responsibility on the affected tower, this sign takeover was extra sustained, and the masked determine might be heard making reference to the true Max Headroom’s ads for New Coke, the animated TV sequence Clutch Cargo, WGN sportscaster Chuck Swirsky, “Best World Newspaper nerds”, and different seemingly unrelated subjects. The video concluded with the masked determine’s naked buttocks being spanked by a lady with a flyswatter whereas yelling “They’re coming to get me!”, with the lady responding “Bend over, bitch!” because the determine was crying and screaming. At that time, the hijackers ended the pirate transmission, and regular programming resumed after a complete interruption of about 90 seconds.[5]

A prison investigation carried out by the Federal Communications Commission within the quick aftermath of the intrusion couldn’t discover the individuals accountable, and regardless of many unofficial inquiries and far hypothesis over the following a long time, the culprits have but to be positively recognized.[6][7][8][9]

Sign intrusion[edit]

Each Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion incidents befell on native Chicago tv stations on the evening of Sunday, November 22, 1987.[6][7][8][9]


A recording of the WGN-TV intrusion

The primary intrusion befell at 9:14 pm throughout the sports activities phase of WGN-TV‘s The Nine O’Clock News. Residence viewers’ screens went black for about fifteen seconds, earlier than footage of an individual carrying a Max Headroom masks and sun shades is displayed. The person rocks erratically in entrance of a rotating corrugated metal panel that mimicked the true Max Headroom’s geometric background impact accompanied by a staticky and garbled buzzing sound.[1][10][11] Your entire intrusion lasted for about 20 seconds and was minimize off when engineers at WGN modified the frequency of the sign linking the printed studio to the station’s transmitter atop the John Hancock Center.[12]

Upon returning to the airwaves, WGN sports activities anchor Dan Roan commented, “Nicely, in case you’re questioning what’s occurred, so am I”,[1] and joked that the pc operating the information “took off and went wild”. Roan then proceeded to restart his report of the day’s Chicago Bears recreation, which had been interrupted by the intrusion.[13]


A recording of the WTTW intrusion[14]

That very same evening, at about 11:20 pm, the sign of native PBS station WTTW was interrupted throughout an airing of the Doctor Who serial Horror of Fang Rock. The wrongdoer was the identical Max Headroom impersonator, this time talking with distorted audio.[8][11]

The masked determine made a remark about “nerds”, referred to as WGN sportscaster Chuck Swirsky a “frickin’ liberal“, held up a can of Pepsi whereas saying “Catch the wave” (a slogan from an advert marketing campaign for Coca-Cola that includes the Max Headroom character),[1][8] and held up a middle finger inside what gave the impression to be a hollowed-out dildo.[15] The determine then ran by way of a sequence of fast feedback and track snippets interspersed with excited noises and exclamations. “Max” sang the phrase “Your love is fading“; hummed a part of the theme track to the 1959 animated sequence Clutch Cargo and stated, “I nonetheless see the X!” (This was a reference to the final episode of that present, which is sometimes misheard as “I stole CBS.”) He additionally feigned defecation (complaining of his piles) and defined that he had “made a large masterpiece for all of the Best World Newspaper nerds” (WGN’s name letters stand for “World’s Greatest Newspaper“), and mentioned sharing a pair of soiled gloves together with his brother.[1][11][8] After a crude video edit, the individual had moved principally offscreen to the left together with his partially uncovered buttocks seen from the aspect, with a feminine determine carrying a French maid costume and what seems to be a masks showing on the correct fringe of the body. The (unworn) Max Headroom masks was briefly held in view whereas the voice cried out, “Oh no, they’re coming to get me! Ah, make it cease!” and the feminine determine started spanking “Max” with a flyswatter.[8] The picture light briefly into static, after which viewers have been returned to the Physician Who broadcast after a complete interruption of about 90 seconds.[8][11]

Technicians at WTTW’s studios couldn’t counteract the sign takeover as a result of there have been no engineers on responsibility at that hour on the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower), the place the station’s broadcast tower was positioned. In line with station spokesman Anders Yocom, technicians monitoring the transmission from WTTW headquarters “tried to take corrective measures, however could not.”[16] Air director Paul Rizzo recalled that “because the content material bought weirder we bought more and more wired about our lack of ability to do something about it.”[6] The pirate broadcast ended when the hijackers unilaterally ended their transmission. “By the point our individuals started trying into what was happening, it was over,” stated Yocom.[12] WTTW acquired quite a few telephone calls from viewers who puzzled what had occurred.[17]

See Also

Strategies and investigations[edit]

The published intrusion was achieved by sending a extra highly effective microwave transmission to the stations’ broadcast towers than the stations have been sending themselves, triggering a capture effect. This was a tough activity in 1987 however was potential earlier than American tv stations switched from analog to digital signals in 2009.[9] Specialists have stated that the stunt required in depth technical experience and a big quantity of transmitting energy, and that the pirate broadcast possible originated from someplace within the line of sight of each stations’ broadcast towers, which have been atop two tall buildings in downtown Chicago.[12]

Nobody has ever claimed accountability for the stunt. Hypothesis concerning the identities of “Max” and his co-conspirators has centered on the theories that the prank was both an inside job by a disgruntled worker (or former worker) of WGN or was carried out by members of Chicago’s underground hacker community. Nonetheless, regardless of an official regulation enforcement investigation within the quick aftermath of the incident and lots of unofficial investigations, inquiries, and on-line hypothesis within the ensuing a long time, the identities and motives of the hijackers stay a thriller.[6][7][8][9][18]

Quickly after the intrusion, an FCC official was quoted in information reporting that the perpetrators confronted a most nice of $10,000 and as much as a 12 months in jail.[1][12] Nonetheless, the five-year statute of limitations was surpassed in 1992, so the individuals answerable for the intrusion would now not face prison punishment ought to their identities be revealed.[19]

Cultural affect[edit]

Although the incident solely briefly caught the eye of most people, it has been overtly or subtly referenced in a wide range of media over the following a long time, with Motherboard claiming that it has been an influential “cyberpunk hacking trope”.[9]

The primary reference got here quickly after the preliminary occasions when WMAQ-TV, one other Chicago TV station, humorously inserted clips of the hijacking right into a newscast throughout Mark Giangreco‘s sports activities highlights. “Lots of people thought it was actual – the pirate chopping into our broadcast. We bought every kind of calls about it,” stated Giangreco.[20]

See additionally[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Knittel, Chris (November 25, 2013). “The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack”. Motherboard. Vice Media. Archived from the original on September 18, 2014.
  2. ^ Ross, Andrew (1990). “Techno-Ethics and Tele-Ethics: Three Lives in the Day of Max Headroom”. In Mellencamp, Patricia (ed.). Logics of Tv: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Indiana College Press. p. 138. ISBN 0-253-33617-1.
  3. ^ Schwoch, James; White, Mimi; Reilly, Susan (1992). Media Knowledge: Readings in Popular Culture, Pedagogy, and Critical Citizenship. SUNY Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-7914-0825-4.
  4. ^ Forester, Tom; Morrison, Perry (1994). Computer Ethics: Cautionary Tales and Ethical Dilemmas in Computing. MIT Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-262-56073-9. [S]everal different cases of uplink video piracy have occurred […] WTTW (Channel 11 in Chicago) was additionally overridden by a 90 second transmission, this time by a person in a Max Headroom masks smacking his uncovered buttocks with a driving crop.
  5. ^ Hill, Steven Warren (2017), Crimson White and Who: The Story of Physician Who in America, Cockeysville,MD: ATB Publishing, p. 79-81
  6. ^ a b c d Shefsky, Jay (November 21, 2017). “30 Years Later, Notorious ‘Max Headroom Incident’ Remains a Mystery”. WTTW Information.
  7. ^ a b c Unruh, Julie (November 23, 2017). “30 years later, Max Headroom hijack mystery remains unsolved”. WGN-TV.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Gallagher, Sean (November 22, 2017). “Thirty years later, “Max Headroom” TV pirate remains at large”. Ars Technica.
  9. ^ a b c d e Haskins, Caroline (November 22, 2017). “Television’s Most Infamous Hack Is Still a Mystery 30 Years Later”. Motherboard. Vice Media.
  10. ^ Hayner, Don (November 24, 1987). “2 channels interrupted to the Max”. Chicago Sun-Times. p. 3. CHI265386. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d Bellows, Alan (January 2007). “Remember, Remember the 22nd of November”. Rattling Fascinating. Archived from the unique on Might 15, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d Camper, John; Daley, Steve (November 24, 1987). “A powerful video prankster could become Max Jailroom”. Chicago Tribune. p. 21. Strutzel stated an engineer shortly modified the frequency of the sign that was transmitting the information present to the Hancock constructing, thus breaking the lock established by the video pirate.
  13. ^ WGN Channel 9 – The Nine O’Clock News – “The 1st ‘Max Headroom’ Incident” (1987) (Videotape). The Museum of Classic Chicago Television. November 23, 2017. Retrieved November 23, 2017 – by way of YouTube.
  14. ^ WTTW Chicago – The Max Headroom Pirating Incident (1987) – Original Upload (videotape). The Museum of Classic Chicago Television. October 30, 2007. Archived from the unique on December 13, 2021 – by way of YouTube.
  15. ^ “WTTW Channel 11 – Doctor Who – ‘The Max Headroom Pirating Incident’ (1987)”. The Museum of Traditional Chicago Tv. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  16. ^ Carmody, John (November 24, 1987). “NBC Lands Gorbachev Interview”. The Washington Post. p. D1. 95520. Archived from the original on September 9, 2016. Retrieved June 26, 2016 – by way of ProQuest Archiver.
  17. ^ “Bogus Max Headroom pirates 2 TV stations, drops his pants”. The Palm Beach Post. Related Press. November 24, 1987. p. 3A.
  18. ^ “The Max Headroom Incident: Revisiting The Masked Mystery, 32 Years Later”.
  19. ^ Knittel, Chris (November 25, 2013). “The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack”. Vice:Motherboard. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  20. ^ Ruane, John (January 1, 1988). “Casting final look at ’87 // Local sportscasters recall year’s memorable events”. Chicago Sun-Times. p. 94. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved June 26, 2016.

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