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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ultra Troll: The Chicago TV Hijaking Incident

Another unsolved mystery from the files of Mr. Dark:
The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion was a television signal hijacking that occurred in ChicagoIllinois, United States on the evening of November 22, 1987. It is an example of what is known in the television business as broadcast signal intrusion. The intruder was successful in interrupting two broadcast television stations within the course of three hours. After a brief and only partially successful attempt to break into the signal of intended target of WGN-TV, the signal pirates, whose identities were never found, succeeded in getting their broadcast intruded onto WTTW during an episode of the Doctor Who serial "Horror of Fang Rock." The pirate broadcast, which lasted 90 seconds and was pre-recorded on videotape, featured an individual disguised as television character Max Headroom parodying WGN and television in general. The incident made national headlines[1] and the people responsible have never been identified.

The video is here along with subtitles. 


The first occurrence of the signal intrusion took place during then-independent station WGN-TV (channel 9)'s live telecast of its primetime newscast, The Nine O'Clock News (now known as WGN News at Nine). During highlights from the Chicago Bears' 30–10 home victory over the Detroit Lions that afternoon in the sports report, the screen went black for 15 seconds, then returned with a person wearing a Max Headroom mask and sunglasses,[2] moving around and bobbing. His head was in front of a sheet of moving corrugated metal, which imitated the background effect used in the Max Headroom TV and movie appearances. There was no audio other than a buzzing noise and an oscillating sound. The hijack was stopped after engineers at WGN switched the frequency of their studio link to the John Hancock Center transmitter.[3]
The incident left sports anchor Dan Roan bemused, saying, "Well, if you're wondering what's happened, so am I." He then unsuccessfully tried to repeat what he was saying before the incident occurred.


Later that night, around 11:15 p.m. Central Time, during a broadcast of the Doctor Who serial "Horror of Fang Rock", PBS member station WTTW's signal was hijacked by the same person, apparently, who had broadcast the WGN-TV hijack, this time with distorted and crackling audio.
The show was interrupted by television static, after which the unidentified man wearing the Max Headroom mask and sunglasses appeared, mentioning WGN pundit Chuck Swirsky, whom he said he was "better than", going on to call Swirsky a "fricking Liberal". The man started to moan, scream and laugh. He continued to laugh and utter various random phrases, including New Coke's advertising slogan "Catch the Wave" while holding a Pepsi can (Max Headroom was a Coca-Cola spokesperson at the time), then crushed the can, tossed it out of sight, leaned towards the camera and presented the finger wearing a rubber extension over his middle finger, though the gesture was partially off-screen. The man then retrieved the Pepsi can, and sang "Your love is fading", removed the rubber extension, and then began humming the theme song to Clutch Cargo, pausing to say "I still see the X" (often misheard as "I stole CBS"), which referred to the final episode of the series, before resuming humming again. He then began to moan painfully, exclaiming about his piles, after which a flatulence sound was heard. He then stated that he had "made a giant masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds" (the WGN call letters used by the Chicago television station as well as its sister radio station are an abbreviation for "World's Greatest Newspaper", in reference to the flagship newspaper of their corporate parent, the Tribune Company's Chicago Tribune). He then held up a glove (similar to the one worn by Michael Jackson at the time) and said, "My brother is wearing the other one." After putting the glove on, he continued, "But it's dirty! It's like you got bloodstains on it!" He then removed the glove and threw it down.
The picture suddenly cut over to a shot of the man's lower torso. His buttocks were partly exposed, and he was holding the now-removed mask up to the camera with the rubber extension now placed in the mouth of the mask, howling, "They're coming to get me!" An unidentified female accomplice wearing a French maid outfit said to him, "Bend over, bitch!" The accomplice then started to spank the man with a flyswatter as the man screamed loudly. The transmission then blacked out for a few seconds before resuming the Doctor Who episode in progress; the hijack lasted for about 90 seconds.[4]
WTTW, which maintained its transmitter atop the Sears Tower, found that its engineers were unable to stop the hijacker due to the fact that there were no engineers on duty at the Sears Tower at the time of the hijacking. According to station spokesman Anders Yocom, technicians monitoring the transmission from WTTW headquarters "attempted to take corrective measures, but couldn't."[5] "By the time our people began looking into what was going on, it was over," he told the Chicago Tribune.[3] WTTW was able to find copies of the hijacker's telecast with the help of Doctor Who fans who had been taping the show.

Years later on Reddit this thread appeared:

submitted   by bpoag
PLEASE READ: After 4 years, I'm happy to say that the two individuals mentioned in the article, J and K, have been formally excluded as suspects. We've decided to leave the story here for those who have an interest in reading the case background. For more information, please read https://www.reddit.com/r/UnsolvedMysteries/comments/3oaxi5/new_developments_in_the_max_headroom_incident/
--Original post below--
Same video, but w/ clearer audio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj1mUk04_ho&NR=1
What I know about all of it in a nutshell:
When I was in my early teens, a number of my friends were into the local phreaking/hacking scene. (This was suburban Chicago, from about 1985 until 1993 or so.) They were much older than me (high school and college age), but they put up with me as sort of a novelty I guess..They liked the fact I looked up to them as quasi-role models, at least.
In any event, I spent countless hours/nights over the ensuing years hanging out with them on local BBS'es and dial-up chat systems, and the occasional in-person get together. Most of them were just casual acquaintances. In most cases, I only knew them by their handle, but a few I knew by name. Two of the people I knew were brothers.
This is the point in the story where you folks aren't going to be happy with me. I still remember what their full names are, but I don't think it's a good idea to share them publically. There are a couple reasons, ones that I think most fair-minded people would agree with.
First, there's the obvious. The FCC may still want to have a little talk with at least one of the two brothers, who we'll call "J", the one who I believe was behind it. Secondly, the person who I believe did it, J, has moderate to severe autism, and, at least at the time, was being cared for by his brother, who we'll call "K". I don't want to disrupt their lives. Thirdly, I don't have complete proof. Only a heap of circumstantial evidence.. Although i've tried recently to contact them to ask them privately (as a fellow Redditor suggested) with no luck.
Anyway, back to our charming childhood story. I know people should be inherently skeptical here, so, i'll do my best to provide you with as much in the line of details as I can remember. I hope it's enough to show that i'm not making anything up here.
People who were into the hacking scene back then were basically the same type of people who are into the hacking scene now...Guys who live in their parent's basements, charming/brilliant guys who don't think to bathe often, and often lacking in social skills pretty much across the board. They hang out at Denny's until they're asked to leave, they can quote Monty Python sketches from memory, and sleep with JRR Tolkien books under their beds where other guys stash porn. Despite the lack of good grooming and social skills, there was the occasional party every so often, or at least a get together at somebody's place.
One of these get-togethers was in an apartment in a town called LaGrange, a suburb of Chicago, in the winter of 1987. K lived in an a shared apartment with his girlfriend, along with a roommate (also a fellow hacker) who we'll refer to as M. K and his girlfriend lived in one half of the apartment, and M lived in the other half. J lived with his parents, and never moved out. I believe J and K were originally from Downers Grove, or Darien. Anyway, the two rooms of this apartment were separated by a clothesline strung in a doorway, and a large rug hung over it--Practically every square inch with the exception of one corner was packed with systems working and some apparently non-working. I remember how the apartment looked in detail because it was the first time I had ever seen an 80 column screen. :) It was hot as hell in there, too. Anyway, the apartment was located in a rather run-down looking apartment high-rise, maybe 4-5 stories tall, located within walking distance of a Pizza Hut. (We all walked over and did lunch/dinner there that day.)
K was a quiet guy. Even though he lived in this apartment with his girlfriend, he often took care of his older brother J who still lived at home. The degree of J's autism was such that I doubt he could ever hold down a job, even a part time job.
J, despite having fairly severe autism, and coming off as basically...crazy, was actually kind of funny. His sense of humor was sort of disturbing, sort of sexually deviant in nature. He wasn't very personable, but he was funny.. The sort of person that you would feel kind of uncomfortable sitting next to as a kid, but he would grow on you after a while, and you would accept him as one of the group after realizing that his mannerisms were odd but basically harmless. No eye contact, ever, but the dirty jokes were funny, at least to me as a 13 year old at the time.
(Although it's circumstantial, this is the first bit of evidence I have. The Max Headroom video features a guy who at one point holds up what appears to be a vibrator or dildo, and tosses it out of frame. The end of the video shows a woman dressed up like Annie Oakley swatting someone's bare ass with a flyswatter. This is the sort of humor that J loved. All of his jokes, constantly, involved something childish and/or sexually deviant. The video, for all intents and purposes, is a perfect reflection of J's sense of humor. Scattered, nervous, and comically sexually deviant.)
J was at the party in the apartment that afternoon. I didn't talk with him directly (me, and the friend of mine that I was there with didn't really talk to anybody that day), but I did overhear what the others were talking about. They were referring to J planning to do something "big" over the weekend. I remember that word, "big", because it piqued my curiosity as to what might be considered "big" by their standards. I later asked them collectively during the dinner we all had at Pizza Hut later that night what they were talking about earlier, what "big" was, and someone (probably K) told me to "Just watch Channel 11 later tonight." ...As sort of an offhanded suggestion. I did happen to be watching Channel 11 later that night, having forgotten about the whole "big" conversation earlier that day. I saw it, but I didn't put 2 and 2 together at the time.
(A funny side note here, thinking back to that dinner -- One of the guys mentioned earlier, M, decided he was going to play a prank on the Pizza Hut staff for poor service. He got up on a chair, put a half-eaten slice of pizza on a plate on top of one of the wooden beam rafters in the restaurant. No one would have found it presumably until it began to rot.)
J didn't really talk to people directly. His brother K sort of talked for him, but not like an interpreter.. More like a person there to rephrase or elaborate on what J was talking about, to clear up what he was saying... To speak with him, not for him. J was much older than his brother. I remember having a hard time trying to place his age, because he dressed very unusually and had very thick, very tinted corrective lenses. In retrospect, i'd say he was probably in his late 20's to early 30's at the time. Again, it was hard to tell.
At the end of the night, my friend and I ended up getting a ride home from J. He drove a small beat up car with alot of army instructional manuals inside of it... The sort of plain black-text-on-off-yellow-cardstock given to soldiers that cover all sorts of topics you learn in the military. I thought it was kind of awkward that the two of us sitting in the back seat said nothing to J during the ride home, so I tried to strike up some conversation with him. He never answered any of my questions. He had his own topics he wanted to talk about. Paraphrasing:
Me: "Hey J****? How old are you, anyway?"
J: "Oh. Do you know why I told you not to sit in the front seat?"
Me: Uh... Why?
J: "Oooh, In case you said something stupid!"
Me: "What do you mean?"
J: "There's a surprise under the seat for people who say something stupid! Oooh, or if YOU say something stupid!"
Me: "Huh?"
J: "What TV shows do you watch?"
Me: "I don't really watch TV."
J: "Hey, I'm hungry. Ooooh, I hope you don't say something stuuupid."
...What i'm trying to illustrate here is that J often jumped around randomly back and forth to different subjects when he talked. He never really kept a clear line of conversation. This brings us to the next bit or two of circumstantial evidence. If you watch the video, the person behind the mask jumps around in exactly the same way as J. The problem is, I never spoke with J for anything other than that ride home, but the way he spoke was in line with the type of verbal mannerisms of the guy in the mask. Where most people would say "um" in conversation, J said "Oh" in various lengths. "Oooooh" if he struggled to find something to say.
On the ride home we talked about what he did for a hobby. He was very proud of a radio he recently acquired, a police radio that he had hacked to cover practically everything "from whale farts to gamma rays.", he said, which was about the only piece of non-sexual comedy I heard come out of his mouth that afternoon. That's the fourth bit of circumstantial evidence. J knew a great deal about not just the broadcast spectrum, but the electronics that underpinned that sort of stuff. By definition, J was a broadcast hacker.
(As another side note, I learned later from a mutual friend that J had a canister of nerve gas under the passenger seat of his car---He swore it was true, and had seen it himself. It was something J thought was funny, like a conversation piece/something to scare people. That was his personality. He could never really connect with anyone in a friend-like way. He liked to scare people, basically, and work from there.)
Here's where my recollection of J begins to fade. I don't recall under what circumstance I remember first hearing about this part, but I do remember hearing that J loved reading newspapers. It was one of his peculiarities, and maybe part of his autism. Specifically, it had to do with him hanging out at convenience stores early in the morning to be there when the paper(s) were dropped off. That's what sealed it for me. That recollection, and the fact that the guy in the mask on the video mentions newspapers repeatedly.
It's a minor point, but Clutch Cargo would have also been contemporaneous to J's childhood. Clutch Cargo was an early 60's cartoon. Only someone born in the 1950's would have been able to sing the theme song. If J was about 30 at the time (1987), then this would make sense.
That's about all I know. To me, the man behind the mask seems for all intents and purposes to be J. The "brother" mentioned in the video is his brother, K. The woman with the flyswatter is likely K's girlfriend, whom I may or may not have ever met. I don't think I did that day.
(For the record, it's speculation, but I don't think that's J's butt getting hit with the flyswatter. I think it was K's. I can't see J allowing anyone to see him partially naked, let alone being hit with a flyswatter---only joking about it.)
That's pretty much all I know.
(Edit 5/15/13: A fellow Redditor came forward recently to confirm that the people and places I mentioned were real, and the people involved actually do exist. He's agreed not to divulge any names either, so please dont pester him about it.
He's thought about it too, and knows the best thing is to say nothing. I didnt know this guy back then, but we probably crossed paths at some point without knowing. Personally, it doesn't really matter to me if anyone believes me or not, but I usually point people in that guy's direction if they're skeptical about what I've shared here. In the meantime, I've been approached by a number of people who are interested in writing screenplays/film adaptations/whatever about the incident. I corresponded with one of them on and off over a couple months earlier this year, for the purposes of helping him with a lengthy and rather well-researched article he was writing which has yet to be published, on the condition that I not divulge any names. For what its worth, he crossed that line with me, so, im no longer corresponding with him.. As part of that effort, I tried contacting J and K multiple times, on his suggestion, both by phone and by postal mail, with no luck, and no acknowledgement. I looked them up via Spokeo/Intellius/YP/Pipl, and found that the brothers still live together, or at least have a house in both their names. I have absolutely no desire to "out" J and K, so, please dont PM me asking to do so. This is something I've thought about at great length, and from every conceivable angle what's right by everyone is to leave them alone. I have no plans or ambitions to try again, as it seems pretty clear that they're not interested in discussing it. For the record, I am not J, or K, or any other pseudonym I mentioned. Nor am I writing something to divulge what I know by some other means. The truth is, all I know is what I've said up above, and I've tried to be as complete as possible.. I wasn't involved in any other way other than apparently hearing about it shortly before it happened. On a related note, someone pointed out recently that I live within walking distance of the Comcast uplink in Tucson at the center of the "Super Bowl porno" broadcast intrusion that happened a year or so ago. Interesting coincidence for those who think that I'm J, but, sorry, it wasn't me. Hope it puts that rumor to rest.)
(EDIT 10/17/13 Some guy on 4chan trolled a bunch of people the other day, claiming he was the guy who did it. He provides a short backstory, but mistakenly includes the claim that it was done "live". That one detail debunks his claim completely. It be proven pretty easily that the incident wasn't done live--just watch the video. The scene jumps directly from Max being in a seated position with a moving background to one where he's standing in a bent over position with a stationary background, with a new camera angle, and someone else in frame. When you're seeing "Max", you're watching a tape being played, not a live feed. Also, there's also tracking and scanline tearing in the very beginning of the video, which would indicate a VHS or Beta tape as a source... not live video. The 4chan poster also claims he was (paraphrasing) "hanging out in an empty studio with a camera".. The types of cameras used in professional broadcasting are very different than consumer-level video cameras. They cost tens of thousands of dollars, capture at resolutions much higher than stock NTSC, and don't produce broadcast-ready signals; the camera's feed has to be post-processed by other equipment before it can be broadcast. Even if said studio camera were used, the image quality of Max would be much better.. One also has to wonder what a sheet of corrugated metal and a rubber dildo would be doing in a TV studio. :) Nice try, anyway.
That being said... The incident was likely recorded in a garage, not a studio, and recorded by three people, not two. There was a small stool or flat object Max sat on, and likely a recycling bin on the floor to his right (out of frame) that he takes his prop-comedy objects out of. It's the only explanation that allows the "that's what you get for 'recycled'..!" comment about the glove and soda can to make any sense along with the other clues. When the can drops on the floor, the resulting bounce sound indicates the floor was not carpeted and the room was probably small; More garage than TV studio. There were probably three people in on it, given two subtle clues near the end of the video. 1) In the scene where Max is spanked, the camera angle is adjusted slightly up and down while being recorded. This tells you that there's someone behind the camera in addition to the two people in frame (Max, and the spanking woman) ..so, 3 total....Which fits the count of the earlier theory of it being J, K, and K's girlfriend. 2) "My brother is wearing the other one", which would indicate Max, plus his brother, not pictured, plus the spanking woman. 3 people, not 2, as the impostor on 4chan has claimed.
(EDIT 11/24/13: Chris Knittel ("ChrisK") has published a full length feature article in Vice/Motherboard showcasing his work in the case.... something I know from our own conversations he's put an enormous amount of time and effort into.
...More importantly, he chose to allow J and K's real names to remain secret, and did not attempt to hunt them down and drag them into the spotlight for the sake of building his own fame and notoriety....resisting that temptation is something I'm actually very proud of him for doing. Beyond that, it's a well-written piece, and very fair. It's true, after all; I have absolutely nothing to offer in the form of rock-solid evidence. I wish I did. All I have are memories, and a few first-hand insights... both of which, I wish I had more of. :) If you were to ask me, I don't think whoever did it will ever come forward....and even more so if it turns I was right, and it actually was J and K.... For anyone who looks at the bigger picture, you eventually realize why its best to leave well enough alone.
Pound for pound, privacy is worth more than fame.
(EDIT 10/11/15J and K have been officially eliminated as suspects. For more info: https://www.reddit.com/r/UnsolvedMysteries/comments/3oaxi5/new_developments_in_the_max_headroom_incident/)

So we still don't know who it was....do you? Mr. Dark want's to know...

Submitted by Mr. Dark

Mr Dark, Jason Russell, Dallas, Texas horror, Texas fright, Dallas horror convention, Jason Brazeal

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