Saturday, 2 August 2014

Remembering The Max Headroom Incident

On the night of November 22, 1987, the people of Chicago, Illinois were about to experience something which they were not expecting. Two times during that night, on two different TV stations, the broadcasts would be intercepted and they would be greeted by a man wearing a Max Headroom mask. This eerie and strange incident will forever be remembered as the most famous TV hijacking in history.

That night, local Chicago based TV station WGN-TV (Channel 9) were conducting their usual Nine O'clock News, and were half way through their sports bulletin presented by Dan Roan. Then at precisely 9:14 PM, without any prior warning, the signal begun to flicker and eventually the screen went into darkness. Then suddenly appeared a man dressed in a suit wearing a Max Headroom mask, bouncing around wildly. The only noise which could be heard was the sound of static coming through the signal, and behind him was a sheet of corrugated metal which spun uncontrollably.

In order to regain control of their broadcast, the technicians at WGN-TV switched frequencies of their studio link to a transmitter which was located at the John Hancock Center. The screen went back to Roan smiling at the camera obviously confused by what he had just seen. He then said "Well, if you're wondering what happened, so am I."

The video of this incident can be found below.

(If you are viewing on a mobile device, please click HERE)

Right, before I go any further, I want to first clear a few things up. I'm sure a few of you are wondering who exactly is Max Headroom? 

Max Headroom is the main character in a British produced American TV show which goes by the same name. It ran from March 31, 1987 - May 5, 1988, and ran for two seasons, only making a total of 14 episodes. It should be said that Max Headroom made his official debut in the TV movie Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future, which was made for Channel 4 in the UK. The US TV series was developed from this movie.  

Max Headroom 

Now, the man in the footage is dressed to resemble Max Headroom with the mask and suit. The corrugated metal in the background is meant to imitate the background effect used in the Max Headroom TV show, similar to the one seen above. 

Later that night, around two hours later, at approximately 11:15 PM, another local Chicago TV station, WTTW (Channel 11) was showing an episode of Doctor Who called "The Horror of Fang Rock" when suddenly the screen started to crack with the sound of static and then appeared the same man as before wearing a Max Headroom mask standing in front of corrugated metal.  

This time, the footage had audio and would last a total of one minute and twenty two seconds. As soon as he appears, and the picture finally stabilises, the man says the words "That does it. He's a frickin' nerd." and begins to giggle in a high pitched voice. He then goes onto say "I think I'm better than Chuck Swirsky, frickin Liberal!" which is a reference to the Chicago Bulls announcer. 

The man then bends down and places a rubber extension over his middle finger. He then stands up holding a can of Pepsi and says "Catch the wave" which was the advertising slogan for the New Coke (which failed miserably) and at the time Max Headroom was the spokesperson for Coca-Cola. The advert can be found below.

(If you are viewing on a mobile device, please click HERE)

He then throws the can of Pepsi out of the frame and proceeds to give the finger to the camera whilst having the rubber extension over it. However, the gesture itself was cut off at the bottom of the screen due to the cameras proximity. Whilst giving the finger to the camera, the man begins to scream and moan uncontrollably. 

The man then appears to bend down and retrieve the Pepsi can before saying "Your love is fading", and then proceeds to remove the rubber extension from his finger. He begins to laugh once more and then starts to hum the theme of Clutch Cargo (a popular animated series in the late 50's and early 60's). Half way through humming the Clutch Cargo theme, he pauses and says "I still see the X!" which is a reference to the final episode of the Clutch Cargo TV series.  

Suddenly, the man starts to moan painfully and says "My piles!" and begins to moan further. He then starts to shake his head uncontrollably, then a flatulence sound can be heard in the background and he then states he had "made a giant masterpiece for all the greatest newspaper nerds". The call sign for the TV station was WGN, and is an abbreviation for 'World's Greatest Newspaper', and was a slogan borrowed from the early years of the Chicago Tribune, who were the newspaper which owned the TV station. 

He then starts to moan and scream further and turns away from the camera to pick up a glove. When the man faces the camera again he holds the glove up in front of the camera and says "My brother is wearing the other one" before putting the glove on his left hand and says "It's dirty!". After that, the man does appear to say something else, but it cannot be made out. 

The picture then cuts over to an image of the man's lower torso from a slightly different angle and he is facing off screen not exposing his face. The sudden cut over in the footage is a clear indication that the footage is pre-recorded and is not a live video. In the shot, the man's buttocks are exposed and he holds the Max Headroom mask up to the camera with the rubber extension placed in its mouth.

Immediately after, the man starts howling "They're coming to get me!" and an unidentified accomplice on the right, who is presumed to either be a teenager or women wearing a dress says "bend over, bitch!" and proceed to spank the man in a very methodically and comical manner with a flyswatter. The transmission then begins to black out for only a few seconds, and then the scheduled episode of Doctor Who resumes. 

That night, both TV stations received hundreds of calls from disturbed viewers demanding to know what they had just witnessed. Over the next few days, the story became front page news across the United States. 

The footage of the WTTV hijacking can be found below. I should note that all the quotations I have used throughout this article are correct. The video below has been subtitled, but some of the subtitling has been done incorrectly.

(If you are viewing on a mobile device, please click HERE)

The question is why couldn't they take the footage down? Well, as hard as they tried, they could not cut the link to the transmitter which was located atop the Sears Tower and thus were not able to override the hijacking. In short, they were at the mercy of the hijacker. A spokesperson for WTTV said "By the time our people began looking into what was going on, it was over". He also said "All in all, there are some who may this as comical but it is a very serious matter because illegal interference of a broadcast is a violation of federal law".

A search for the perpetrators was started and the FBI also joined the investigation. An agent from Chicago's FBI said "I would like to inform anybody involved in this kind of thing, that there's a maximum penalty of $100,000, one year in jail, or both".  

I'm convinced that some of you are wondering how it was possible for him to intercept a broadcast. He used a microwave transmitter in order from him to intercept the scheduled broadcasts. The transmitters used by the two TV stations are a considerable distance away from the TV studio. Basically, all he had to do was get closer to the transmitters than the TV stations were to intercept their broadcasts. This would mean his signal would reach the transmitter first before the TV stations could, thus broadcasting whatever he wanted to the surrounding area. Each of the transmitters are surrounded by apartment complex's with clear views of each of the transmitters, so it is quite possible he carried out his hijacks from one of these complex's. 

To this day, the perpetrators have never been found. 

So, what exactly gives someone the motive for doing something like this? Here are a few reasons:

Prank - I guess this would be the most obvious one! It's kind of funny. The skits performed throughout the footage have obviously been rehearsed prior to recording the video. He also uses degrees of childlike unsophisticated humor throughout.  

Technical Skill - The perpetrator clearly has a great amount of technical knowledge on broadcasting in order to carry out an operation like this. Today, computer hackers hack various websites, email accounts etc to demonstrate the knowledge they possess, so I guess you could compare that to this in this instance and back then the internet did not exist. Some people also consider this to be the first 'troll'.

Message - At this point, I'm sure all you conspiracy theorists will have a field day, but you can't really rule out that perhaps he was trying to tell us something and not everything he was saying was a load of gibberish. Throughout the video, Max (I'm sick of referring to him as 'the man') criticises Chuck Swirsky and the Chicago Tribune and also talks about 80's pop culture. I mean maybe even him getting spanked might symbolise something?

I'm pretty sure you could come up with various other suggestions, but those are the three most obvious to me. 

Since that day, there has not been another instance of signal piracy in the United States. Max will forever be known as a mysterious man who managed to hijack two of the largest TV stations in Chicago. The legacy of the Max Headroom instance will forever be cemented as the biggest TV hijacking in history and is kept alive due to the internet and people speculating his identity and motive for these events.

I hope you guys thoroughly enjoyed reading this article as it has been a pleasure for me to write. Hopefully, I shared with you something you have never seen before and you were intrigued by. I hope to continue this style of writing every Friday.

Catch you later, 



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