The Mystery Encyclopedia

Max Headroom Signal Hijacking

On November 22, 1987, in an act of video piracy, the television broadcasts of two stations in Chicago, Illinois
max-headroom

Signal intrusion interrupts sports news segment
– by Mystery Wiki

On November 22, 1987, in an act of video piracy, the television broadcasts of two stations in Chicago, Illinois were hijacked by a video of an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask and costume, accompanied by distorted audio. The first incident took place for 25 seconds during the sports segment of WGN-TV‘s 9:00 p.m. news broadcast; the second occurred around two hours later, for about 90 seconds during PBS affiliate WTTW‘s broadcast of Doctor Who.

The hacker made references to Max Headroom’s endorsement of Coca-Cola, the TV series Clutch Cargo, WGN anchor Chuck Swirsky; and “all the greatest world newspaper nerds”, a reference to WGN’s call letters, which stand for “World’s Greatest Newspaper“. A corrugated panel swiveled back and forth mimicking Max Headroom’s geometric background effect.[4] The video ended with a pair of exposed buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter before normal programming resumed. The culprits were never caught or identified.

Cultural Impact

Not long after the incident, WMAQ-TV humorously inserted clips of the hijacking into a newscast during Mark Giangreco‘s sports highlights. “A lot of people thought it was real – the pirate cutting into our broadcast. We got all kinds of calls about it,” said Giangreco.[17]

According to Motherboard, the incident became an influential “cyberpunk hacking trope”.[8] Thirty years later, the identity of the hijackers is still unknown