ARTLURKER

A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

The Sunday Video: The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Incident

This weeks Sunday Video is the longest of two acts of video piracy featuring someone in a Max Headroom mask that briefly violated TV networks in Chicago, Illinois, on the evening of November 22nd, 1987. Known as “The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Incident” for obvious reasons, the illegal communications successfully interrupted two television stations within a three hour period.

The first broadcast aired at 9:14pm during Dan Roan’s Sunday night Chicago Bears report on WGN’s 9 ‘oclock news. On this instance the transmission was short  – just twenty five seconds – and silent. However, during the second, which occurred exactly hours later during the Dr. Who episode “Horror of Fang Rock” on PBS affiliate WTTW Chicago Channel 11, local residents were treated to a much longer snippet that included audio, a sex toy, refreshment endorsements and partial nudity. Unlike the first that was cut short by engineers at WGN, this second run, which amounted to one of the weirdest, unauthorized things ever to hit the Chicago airwaves, terminated itself and did not return. At the time WGN’s Chief engineer Bob Strutzel was quoted as saying that those responsible must have had at their disposal “some pretty sophisticated microwave equipment operating in the broadcast auxiliary frequency bands and a significant amount of power.”

Deliciously, despite investigation by both the FCC and the FBI who each sought to mete out the maximum penalty of 100,000 dollars or one year in jail, or both, neither the hijacker nor their accomplices were ever found or identified. This incident was the first of its kind in Chicago.

The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Incident, 1987. Courtesy of FuzzyMemoriesTV.

Below is an unofficial transcription by the publishers of this version of The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Incident dialogue. Even when taking into account the audio distortion, the pirate’s ramblings don’t make much sense. Here’s what they were able to make out:

“He’s a freaky nerd!”

“This guy’s better than Chuck Swirsky.” [another WGN sportscaster at the time]

“Oh Jesus!”

“Catch the wave…” [reference to a Coke commercial at the time of which Max Headroom was a spokesperson]

“Your love is fading…”

“I stole CBS.”

“Oh, I just made a giant masterpiece printed all over the greatest world newspaper nerds.” [??]

“My brother [mother?] is wearing the other one.”

“It’s dirty…”

“They’re coming to get me…”

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For a collection of actual news reports on the incident please go here.

For detailed text accounts of the incident please go here.

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The Sunday Video: The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Incident