In the early morning of April 27, 1986, John R. MacDougall, a.k.a. Captain Midnight, interrupted the HBO broadcast of The Falcon and the Snowman with a color test pattern and a simple message:
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
NO WAY !
[SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]
It was a protest against HBO’s scrambling of their signal (which forced home dish viewers to buy expensive descrambling equipment) and their monthly subscription fee of $12.95.
MacDougall, working at Central Florida Teleport at the time, took advantage of one of the facility’s satellite dishes. He simply aimed it at Galaxy 1, the satellite that carried HBO, and half the country saw his digital protest for a full four and a half minutes.
Here’s an old news report filed on the incident:
MacDougall was ultimately charged, fined, and put on probation for a year, but it’s cool; he still runs a satellite dish dealership in Ocala, Florida, and he doesn’t regret what he did.
However, his broadcast intrusion was tame (and sensible) compared to the one that occurred the next year.
Enter Max Headroom
Captain Midnight’s jamming of HBO was out of protest. But another broadcast signal intrusion, which occurred on November 22, 1987, was a bit more avant garde.
Max Headroom, if you don’t know, was a character portrayed by Matt Frewer (who you may remember from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or, more recently, Syfy’s Eureka). He was meant to be “the world’s first computer generated TV host,” although it was all prosthetic and weird audio/video distortions.
He hosted The Max Headroom Show, was the spokesman for New Coke, and he even recently showed up in a PSA for that digital switchover a few years ago.
Anyway, on November 22, 1987, two broadcasts on two separate Chicago-based networks were disrupted by an imposter wearing a Max Headroom costume.
The first was just a brief interruption of WGN-TV’s The Nine O’Clock News. It appeared out of nowhere around 9:14 pm CST, the silent (well, buzzing) image of a man wearing a Max Headroom mask dancing around. This lasted about 25 seconds, but to be honest, it’s the second incident that most people remember.
In fact, the second incident is still with us, thanks to the Doctor Who fans who taped the show during the intrusion.
That’s right. It happened at about 11:15 pm CST on the station WTTW, during an episode of Doctor Who. The station’s signal was interrupted by the same video that had appeared on WGN-TV. But this time, there was sound, and it went on for about 90 seconds.
Check it out; it’s weird.
So many random things happen in this video. He taunts sportscaster Chuck Swirsky. He sarcastically says “Catch the wave,” Coca-Cola’s slogan for New Coke, while tossing a Pepsi can.
He sings, he laughs, he complains about his hemorrhoids. And then, someone dressed up in a French maid outfit spanks him with a flyswatter.
I…yeah. Just watch it, if you dare.
To this day, no one knows the identity of the Max Headroom broadcast intruder, or what it was really all about.
Here are some more of those news reports covering the incident, where everyone seemed fairly confident they’d catch whoever responsible. Funny how that works out.
Coincidentally, Captain Midnight and the Max Headroom Broadcast Intrusions is the name of my new Reggae fusion band, and our first album is set to release this August.
Well, maybe in another universe.