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

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