On Sunday night of November 22nd, 1987, if you were one of many Chicago residents watching Channel 9’s “Nine O’Clock News” you would’ve heard the voice of a newscaster discussing the Bears game. Suddenly at 9:14 P.M. as the television screen turned black for 15 seconds until a man in a rubber mask and sunglasses with a square-like face resembling Max Headroom shocked the nation and, is known as one of the most cryptic TV hijackings.
Max Headroom was a British artificial intelligence known for his stuttering and electronic-sounding voice and was portrayed by Matt Frewer. The background in most of his shows consisted of a futuristic lined with neon colors which resembled the background of the two parts of the hijacking.
The first hijacking took place at Chicago’s WGN station at 9:14 P.M. with the Max Headroom-dressed figure moving around a bit while a buzzing noise played with no other sound. The hijacking lasted 30 seconds until signal engineers broadcasting Channel 9 then moved the frequency of the studio to try to link another transmitter which successfully brought back the current channel of Dan Roan discussing sports.
People at WGN inferred that the hijack was a sort of inside job and searched the studio for a masked intruder but was not found. It was then discovered the recording was pre-recorded and performed by a third party in a different location.
Studio workers and residents all over were still in shock and confusion over what just appeared before their eyes but the third party with the Max Headroom figure hijacked again two hours later. On Channel 11, PBS’s affiliate WWTW was airing an episode of Doctor Who before the screen turned black.
The same neon-lined background appeared as before with distorted audio and the same Max Headroom lookalike staring at the camera. Their distorted phrases consisted of, “That does it! He’s a frickin’ nerd,” followed by a distorted sinister laugh and then stated, “Yeah, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky, frickin’ liberal.” Swirsky was a sports director at WGN Radio station in Chicago and had a history of sports broadcasting.
Then after manically laughing, the figure held up a Pepsi can while saying Coca-Cola’s slogan, “Catch the wave,” which was an advertisement at the time featuring Max Headroom as the spokesperson for Coca-Cola. The catchphrase for this new generation of Coke showed a display of pop culture references.
They proceeded to flip off the camera with a rubber item over his finger and sang the lyrics, “your love is fading,” from the song (I know) I’m Losing You by the Temptations. They started to hum the theme song to Clutch Cargo and say random phrases from various television shows and screaming nonsense. They proceeded to state they had “made a giant masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds,” referring to World’s Greatest Newspaper (WGN).
A glove was then held up and the figure shouted out, “My brother is wearing the other one,” then putting it on said, “But it’s dirty! It’s like you got bloodstains on it!” The scene shifted very fast to the shot of his torso and the bottom half of it which was partially displayed, and the Max Headroom rubber mask was removed and was held to the front of the camera. The rubber item covering his middle finger earlier had been removed and stuffed into the mouth of the mask. “They’re coming to get me!” was said from the figure in a yelling tone as a woman had been spanking him with a fly swatter and then the screen turned black returning to Doctor Who.
Unfortunately no signal engineers were at the WTTW studio to help stop the hijacking, but when they noticed the attack it had already been over. The Federal Communications Commission made it their mission to find who was responsible for this and had no luck, but they figured out the hijacker placed their antenna between the designated transmitter tower and therefore disrupted the original signal. The FCC also determined the location of the hijacking was most likely in a warehouse due to the background and attempted to track it down.
People thought a major broadcast hijacking like that would never happen again but this infamous attack led a legacy for the Captain Midnight Signal Interruption in which someone had expressed their dismay towards HBO raising their prices.
Though most attackers are caught the figure behind the Max Headroom mask still remains a mystery and has not been caught or heard from since.