If you were around in the ’80s, two pop culture events stand out: the birth of MTV and the debut of a fictional artificial intelligence character named Max Headroom. And while most remember November 22 as the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy’s death, it is also the day that someone used Max Headroom’s image to hack two Chicago television stations and interrupt their broadcasts. Despite an intense investigation by the FCC, the mystery remains unsolved.
The first intrusion occurred with a newscast on WGN around 9pm. Then, a short while later on a different station, WTTW, the television program Dr. Who was interrupted. Caroline Haskins describes it this way in Motherboard: “Suddenly, televisions went silent, and their screens went black. At first, it seemed like an equipment malfunction. Without warning, televisions in the area blasted loud radio static. It was overlain with the screech of a power saw cutting into metal, or a jet engine malfunctioning. At center screen, a person wore a Max Headroom mask….”
The creepy incidents were possible due to the analog broadcast technology at that time, according to Sean Gallagher in Ars Technica. “The attacker was able to overpower the signals sent by the television studios to a broadcast antenna atop the John Hancock building in Chicago with his or her own signals,” he writes. While the WGN news broadcast was swiftly restored by the station’s engineers, the WTTW incident lasted 90 seconds “and the pirate TV broadcast’s audio, while distorted, was audible to anyone who happened to be tuned in,” Gallagher reports.
Read the full story at Ars Technica.