Max Headroom Video Hijacking - 20th Anniversary
Last weekend was Thanksgiving in the U.S. Besides marking the launch of the holiday shopping season, there were several other important anniversaries. It was the 44th anniversary of the JFK assassination, the 44th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who, and of course the 20th anniversary of the Max Headroom broadcast hijacking in Chicago. That last one not familiar?
Though the incident happened in Chicago, it made news far beyond this city. Let me paint you a picture of what I remember first-hand. I was in high school in 1987, and was a huge fan of both Doctor Who & the Max Headroom sci-fi TV series. It was probably close to midnight on Sunday night, and the Doctor's adventure ("Horror of Fang Rock" for those of you playing along at home) was suddenly interrupted by another of my heroes - Max Headroom. I was freaked out. FREAKED OUT.
I checked my VCR & other video gear - it wasn't crossed wires on my end. Max (or someone dressed like Max) had hijacked the transmission and was broadcasting his own signal. The hijacking featured a guy in a Max mask, rotating corrugated metal cleverly stood in for Max's abstract graphical background, and for about a minute all of Doctor Who's audience was at Max's mercy. My fear was that I'd be in the rubber room after telling people that Max Headroom had spoken to me through my TV the night before.
Max's speech was heavily garbled (which was really quite frightening in the middle of the night), but I could make out his singing a strange little tune, banter about a dirty glove, teasing the "World's Greatest Newspaper Nerds" (a sly reference to another local TV station), and some very rude bare-bottomed monkeyshines.
The next day at school, I endured more than a few accusations of having perpetrating the hijacking. As both a sci-fi geek and advanced A/V nerd, I had the right kind of footprint to have pulled this off... with the possible exception being that I still have no idea how to do it. There have been a number of infamous cases of TV signal piracy over time, but this is one of the few has still gone unsolved 20 years later.
Fortunately I had a tape rolling, so I've got a genuine piece of Chicago broadcast history in my VCR. I wasn't the only one - you too can check out the Max clip at fuzzymemories.tv. This excellent website is an online museum of Chicago TV, but there's plenty of interest to anyone who's a fan of creative homespun television. I predict that once you finish watching Max, you'll end up hanging out for more than a few minutes checking out how great and downright bizarre Chicago TV can be.