Odd Culture

The Max Headroom Pirate Incident

posted by Chris Valentine

This is a story about the infamous Max Headroom pirate incident that was witnessed by Dr. Who fans on November 22, 1987 in Chicago, Illinois. First, our question to sci-fi nerds: If you were settled in for the night with your bag of Doritos to watch Dr. Who, would you be upset or pleased to be interrupted by Max Headroom? That night in 1987, a TV pirate, wearing a Max Headroom mask, hijacked the Chicago TV signal for about 30 seconds, subjecting the audience to wacky singing, mooning, and other obscene behavior.

Max Headroom Pirate Incident

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In the business, the Max Headroom pirate signal was called a “broadcast signal intrusion.” We call it a nice TV hack. Within a few hours, 2 TV stations had their signals hijacked; the guy who did it was never identified or caught!

The first Max Headroom pirate incident took place on WGN (channel 9), during the 9:00 news. As reported:

The station’s signal was interrupted for about half a minute by a video of a person wearing a Max Headroom mask, standing in front of a swaying sheet of corrugated metal, which imitated the background effect in the Max Headroom TV and movie appearances. There was no audio, only a buzzing noise. The hijack was stopped after an engineer at WGN switched the modulation of their studio link to the John Hancock Center transmitter. Reporter Dan Roan said: “Well, if you’re wondering what happened, so am I.”

Later, around 11:15pm, a broadcast of Doctor Who on PBS station WTTW was hijacked – this time, Max Headroom had a few words for his audience:

Haha! Our jokester pirate gets in a jab at Chuck Swirsky, Pepsi Coke (the product peddled by Max Headroom), WGN (“World’s Greatest Newspaper”), and Clutch Cargo, before getting swatted in the ass by an unknown accomplice. 90 seconds of television history!

A television signal would not be intentionally hacked again until February, 2009, where Comcast customers in Tucson had their Super Bowl game interrupted by a porn clip.

On a related note, the Max Headroom TV Series is now available on DVD!

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