Max Headroom WTTW Pirating Incident – 11/22/87

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Something worth sharing with you, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,


I found this all pretty interesting:

The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion was a television signal hijacking in Chicago, Illinois, 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 television stations within three hours. Neither the hijacker nor the accomplices have ever been found or identified. (Information provided by Wikipedia)

Here is that video of the incident:

Here is a news report on the incident:

Here is a story written by someone who thinks he knows who was behind this incident:

(This story was found originally at

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 mild 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 good amount 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 (WTTW) later that night.” …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, he was a broadcast hacker.

(As another side note, I later learned from someone else that J had a canister of nerve gas under the passenger seat. They swore by it. 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. 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.

And finally watching the video on Youtube led me to this other video featuring it, and two other strange broadcasts:

In the description for the video it explains all three videos:

We already know about the first one if you made it this far in the article, so here are the descriptions from broadcast #2 and #3.

#2 UVB-76
This irritating electric noise is a Russian radio broadcast over a certain
frequency, constantly, non stop, 24-7 since alteast 1982.
The wierd part isnt the tone, its what happens when it stops…
in its 20-something year run, the sound has been interrupted only three times,
the earliest known time being Christmas Eve in 1997.
Each time a voice comes on and lists several Russian names
and numbers before returning to the foghorn.
It gets even wierder when you realize that the sound isnt a direct signal,
infact its broadcasted through a microphone,which means its actually a live
sound in a room.
Every so often, conversations can be heard in the background, though
they are difficult to decipher.

#3 The backwards radio station.
As you can probably tell, its not actually a backwards radio station,
its a name attributed to it.
Just like the UVB-76 the signals reason is unknown, simply being played
non stop for years on end.
Strangely, the signal is played in 2 frequencies, one from America
and one from europe.
Some people have put MAJOR effort into determining the true reason for the
noise ,but to no avail.
Remember, behind every large scale radio signal, there is an excessive
amount of electricity,cost and equipment being used, so there must be a reason

This is what Andrew Michaels is doing now…………


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