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Broadcast signal intrusion

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Don't let those people fool you.

Broadcast signal intrusion is an illegal act hijackers use to abuse television and radio broadcasts without a license. The victims if caught will be guilty, sued, or/and arrested.

Notable Incidents

Southern Television "Vrillon" Interruption

On Saturday, 26 November 1977, Southern TV's Andrew Gardner was presenting the early-evening news bulletin. At 5:10 p.m. UTC, the TV picture wobbled slightly, followed by a deep buzz. The audio was replaced by a distorted voice delivering a message for almost six minutes. The hoaxer claimed to be Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command. Reports of the incident vary, some calling the speaker "Vrillon", "Gillon" or "Asteron". The interruption ceased shortly after the statement had been delivered, transmissions returning to normal shortly before the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Later in the evening, Southern Television apologized for what it described as "a breakthrough in sound" for some viewers. ITN also reported on the incident in its own late-evening Saturday bulletin. Hundreds of worried viewers flooded Southern Television with calls on Saturday night after the incident.

It is commonly believed that the hijacking was a protest against nuclear weaponry and the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction.

The complete transcript of the message reads:
"This is the voice of Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, speaking to you. For many years you have seen us as lights in the skies. We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over this, your planet Earth. We come to warn you of the destiny of your race and your world so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid the disaster which threatens your world and the beings on our worlds around you. This is so that you may share in the great awakening, as the planet passes into the New Age of Aquarius. The New Age can be a time of great peace and evolution for your race, but only if your rulers are made aware of the evil forces that can overshadow their judgments. Be still now and listen, for your chance may not come again. All your weapons of evil must be removed. The time for conflict is now past and the race of which you are a part may proceed to the higher stages of its evolution if you show yourselves worthy to do this. You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace and goodwill. Small groups all over the planet are learning this, and exist to pass on the light of the dawning New Age to you all. You are free to accept or reject their teachings, but only those who learn to live in peace will pass to the higher realms of spiritual evolution. Hear now the voice of Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, speaking to you. Be aware also that there are many false prophets and guides at present operating in your world. They will suck your energy from you – the energy you call money and will put it to evil ends and give you worthless dross in return. Your inner divine self will protect you from this. You must learn to be sensitive to the voice within that can tell you what is truth, and what is confusion, chaos, and untruth. Learn to listen to the voice of truth which is within you and you will lead yourselves onto the path of evolution. This is our message to our dear friends. We have watched you growing for many years as you too have watched our lights in your skies. You know now that we are here, and that there are more beings on and around your Earth than your scientists admit. We are deeply concerned about you and your path towards the light and will do all we can to help you. Have no fear, seek only to know yourselves, and live in harmony with the ways of your planet Earth. We here at the Ashtar Galactic Command thank you for your attention. We are now leaving the planes of your existence. May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the cosmos."


Telewizja Solidarność (TV Solidarity)

On September 14, 1985, four astronomers at Poland's University of Toruń (Zygmunt Turło, Leszek Zaleski, Piotr Łukaszewski and Jan Hanasz) used a home computer, a synchronizing circuit, and a transmitter to superimpose messages in support of the labor movement Solidarność (Solidarity) over state-run television broadcasts in Toruń, including an episode of 07 zgłoś się (07, Come In). The messages read "Dość podwyżek cen, kłamstw i represji. Solidarność Toruń" ("Enough price increases, lies and repressions. Solidarity Toruń") and "Bojkot wyborów naszym obowiązkiem" ("It is our duty to boycott the election", referring to the rigged Sejm elections of 1985) with the Solidarity logo. The four men were eventually discovered and were charged with "possession of an unlicensed radio transmitter and publication of materials that could cause public unrest". At their sentencing, the judge noted their prize-winning work in the Polish scientific community and gave each of them probation and a fine of the equivalent of US$100 each (or 3,000,000 old złoty, 300 PLN in today's currency).

Captain Midnight Incident

Screenshot from the "Captain Midnight" incident.

At 12:32 a.m. Eastern Time on April 27, 1986, HBO had its satellite signal feed from its operations center on Long Island in Hauppauge, New York interrupted by a man named John R. MacDougall, calling himself "Captain Midnight". It occurred during a presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The broadcast intrusion lasted between 4 to 5 minutes and was seen by viewers along the East Coast. MacDougall threatened to hijack the signals of Showtime and The Movie Channel, but was later was caught and identified. He was from Ocala, Florida. Authorities were tipped off by a man from Wisconsin in a phone booth at a rest area off Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Florida. The man filing the report said that he overheard MacDougall bragging about it. MacDougall's guilt was confirmed by an FCC investigation that showed he was alone at Central Florida Teleport at the time of the incident and a recording of the jamming video showed that the text was created by a character generator at that location. He was charged with transmitting without a radio license in violation of Title 47 of the United States Code. MacDougall pled guilty and was fined $5,000 and served a year probation. MacDougall was able to perform the signal intrusion while working a second job as a master control operator at a satellite teleport in Florida, where he worked to make ends meet due to declining income from his satellite TV equipment business. He stated that he did it because he was frustrated with HBO's service rates and that it was hurting his business selling satellite dishes.

To this day, MacDougall still owns his business and even has a page on his website dedicated to the incident.

Playboy Channel religious message

On September 6, 1987, a broadcast of softcore pornography on the Playboy Channel was interrupted with a religious message that says "Thus saith the Lord thy God: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Repent, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand". Thomas Haynie, who works for the Christian Broadcasting Network, was convicted of satellite piracy. Haynie, who pleaded his innocence, was the first person convicted under a new federal law that had made satellite hacking a felony following the Captain Midnight and Max Headroom incidents. CBN maintained that the FCC's case was entirely circumstantial since there were no witnesses and the signal could not be traced to a point of origin. During the investigation, experts on both sides attempted to recreate the incident with CBN's equipment. According to CBN spokesman Dino McCann, they were unsuccessful. CBN asserted that there was not enough power for Haynie to jam Playboy's signal but during the trial, government witnesses said the CBN station was capable of interfering with satellite transmissions. After initially being deadlocked, the jury eventually sided with the prosecution and convicted Haynie on two of six counts. Haynie received three years of probation, a $1,000 fine, and 150 hours of community service.

Max Headroom Hijackings

Screenshot from the "Max Headroom" incident.

On November 22, 1987, an unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask appeared on the signals of two television stations in Chicago. Independent station, WGN-TV was hijacked first. During a sports report on its 9:00 p.m. newscast. The screen went black for 15 seconds before the hijacker appeared to move erratically against an oscillating corrugated metal background accompanied by a loud buzzing sound. It lasted about 25 seconds. Later that night, during a broadcast of the Doctor Who serial "The Horror of Fang Rock" on local PBS station WTTW, the signal was again interrupted by another video of the Max Headroom impersonator, this time with distorted audio. The masked figure referred to WGN sportscaster Chuck Swirsky, who he called a "frickin' liberal!", held up a can of Pepsi while saying "Catch the wave!" (it was a slogan from an ad campaign for Coca-Cola), and gave the camera the middle finger (inside what appeared to be a hollowed-out dildo). After singing the phrase "your love is fading!" (a reference to the song (I Know) I'm Losing You), humming the theme song to the 1959 TV series Clutch Cargo, and saying "I still see the X!" (a reference to the last episode of that show), he said he had "made a giant masterpiece for all the World's Greatest Newspaper Nerds!" (WGN's letters stand for "World's Greatest Newspaper"). He then produced a glove and stated that his brother was wearing the other one (likely a reference to Michael Jackson, who by this time had begun wearing his famous glove to cover up his vitiligo) and complained that it was dirty and had footprints on it, before partially exposed his buttocks, saying "they're coming to get me!", while a female figure dressed as a french maid said "Bend over, bitch!" and spanked him with a flyswatter. After a few moments of static, viewers were returned to the Doctor Who broadcast. The signal takeover lasted 90 seconds. WTTW, which maintained its transmitter atop the Sears Tower, found that its engineers were unable to stop the hijacker because there were no engineers on duty at the Sears Tower at the time of the hijacking. WTTW received numerous phone calls from viewers who wondered what had occurred for the duration of the intrusion. WTTW was able to find copies of the hijacker's telecast with the help of Doctor Who fans who had been taping the show. For over 30 years, the signal intrusion remains unsolved as of now. Many theories as to the motive of the culprits range from the man in the Max Headroom mask being schizophrenic or autistic to an extension of the phone-phreaking scene. Ben Minnotte of Oddity Archive believes that the culprits were demonstrating how vulnerable television signals were to being overridden, the hijacking is a subtle way of saying "improve your security".

Montana "Dead Bodies" EAS Alert

Television viewers in Great Falls, Montana were somewhat perturbed on February 11, 2013, to find a daytime chat show interrupted by an EAS message warning them that "dead bodies are rising from their graves and attacking the living". Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you've always wanted a Shaun of the Dead-style excuse for a lock-in down at the pub) it was only a hoax, perpetrated by unknown hackers. The station, KRTV, is an affiliate of CBS, and at the time was broadcasting an episode of The Steve Wilkos Show. The show's audio was replaced with the loud tones of the station's emergency alert system, followed by a voice declaring that a zombie apocalypse was imminent. A scrolling blue bar at the top of the screen listed "counties/areas" surrounding the city that was affected. The voice continued: "Follow the messages onscreen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous." Reuters quotes local police as saying that nobody appeared to be taken in by the hoax, although several viewers did make "humourous" calls to ask what guns would be effective against the undead hordes. Engineers from KRTV's parent company, Cordillera Communications, are still investigating exactly how their broadcast signal was able to be hijacked so easily. Its vice president, Steve Saunders, has also said that attempts were made to take over emergency alert systems at other stations in the area on the same day. The system is in place for the president to be able to address the nation in times of serious emergency, such as nuclear war and is also used by the National Weather Service to warn of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash flooding, or police departments to warn of civil emergencies or to ask the public to help search for abducted children, so it's no surprise that the Federal Communications Commission and FBI are both looking into the hack as well. Many have noted that the message comes from the intro to the song "Fight 'Em Till You Can't" by Anthrax. One theory states that, like the Max Headroom incident, the culprits were demonstrating flaws in the EAS, as the investigation found that the stations who were affected were still using the factory default password on their SAGE Endec equipment; the FCC promptly told all stations in the United States to change the passwords on their equipment.

Other Incidents

1988 World Series interruption

During the second inning from Game 1 of the 1988 World Series on October 15, 1988, an unidentified technician from NBC affiliate WMGT-TV in Macon, Georgia was fired after a 10-second sex scene from an unknown program was shown on-air during broadcast. The incident was recalled 3 days later that the incident is under investigation, as production manager L.A. Sturdivant recalled that the incident was just an accident.

2006 Lebanon War

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel overloaded the satellite transmission of Hezbollah's Al Manar TV to broadcast anti-Hezbollah propaganda. One spot showed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with crosshairs superimposed on his image followed by three gunshots and a voice saying "Your day is coming..." and shots of the Israeli Air Force destroying targets in Lebanon.

Mayday interruption

An Australian broadcast of the Canadian TV series Mayday was interrupted by an eerie audio loop in 2007. A southern-accented male voice saying "Jesus Christ! Help us all, Lord!" looped repeatedly for 6 minutes straight. Investigation was unable to determine if pirates had hijacked the station or if the religious message was an accidental case of crossed wires.

Tom Brokaw interruption

On March 12, 2007, during a 9 p.m. airing of an Ion Life rebroadcast of a Tom Brokaw-hosted NBC special, State of U.S. Health Care, on Phoenix, Arizona TV station KPPX-TV, a station employee inserted about 30 seconds of a hardcore pornographic film into the broadcast, prompting telephone calls to local news media outlets and the local cable provider, Cox Communications. Parent company Ion Media Networks conducted a rigorous investigation into what they called "an intolerable act of human sabotage", and announced shortly thereafter that the employee found to be responsible had been fired, threatening further legal action.

2007 Playhouse Disney hijacking

On May 1, 2007, the Disney Channel was hijacked by an unidentified person. The kids' show Handy Manny was airing before the screen went black and sex scenes from adult films were played for 6 minutes until the screen went black again and then back to the airing. This was only for Comcast viewers though, not for people who have other cable providers, and it was only in New Jersey. Not much info is given about the hijack, but it did happen according to various internet sources. A similar incident happened in 2012 on the Dish Network feed of Disney Channel during an airing of Lilo & Stitch.

Panorama interruption

On June 17, 2007, an intrusion incident occurred on Czech Television's Sunday morning program Panorama, which shows panoramic shots of Prague and various locations across the Czech Republic. One of the cameras, located in Černý Důl in Krkonoše, had been tampered with on-site and its video stream was replaced with the hackers' own, which contained CGI of a small nuclear explosion in the local landscape, ending in white noise and screen distortion. The broadcast looked authentic enough, with the only clue for the viewers being the web address of the artist group "Ztohoven", which had already performed several reality hacking incidents before. Czech Television considered legal action against the group, and tourism workers in the area expressed outrage.

Oprah Winfrey interruption

On July 13, 2007, a grainy photo of a man and woman interrupted ABC affiliate WJLA-TV's digital or HD signal, which was located at Washington, D.C. The picture was not transmitted over the analog signal, however. The incident was deemed a genuine signal intrusion by various websites but has since been confirmed to be the result of an older HDTV encoder malfunctioning in the early morning hours and going undetected. Station management stated that the image was from an advertisement for The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The Cartoon Network Incident

On February 7, 2008, Comcast subscribers in Nashville, Tennessee also saw pornography via the cable provider on Cartoon Network. The incident, which happened in the early morning hours, was broadcast for at least an hour. Vice president of Nashville's Comcast provider, John Gauder apologized and stated "We apologize for any inconvenience some of our Comcast cable TV customers in Middle Tennessee experienced Thursday as a result of some highly unusual issues ... It appears that a subscription movie channel was inadvertently shown on other channels which normally carry news, sports, children's and another entertainment programming... We are taking the appropriate steps to ensure that this highly unusual incident does not happen again." Comcast said that engineers thought they had fixed the glitch which occurred on multiple cable channels at midnight earlier that night, but the error reappeared at around 4 a.m. when the cable company decided to remove the channels from the lineup.

Super Bowl XLIII interruption

On February 1, 2009, a Comcast headend replaced NBC affiliate KVOA's signal with graphic footage from the pornographic video Wild Cherries 5 in portions of Arizona for 28 seconds, interrupting Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter. Comcast claimed "Our initial investigation suggests this was an isolated malicious act. We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine who was behind this". KVOA also announced that it will be investigating the incident. On February 4, 2011, former Cox Cable employee Frank Tanori Gonzalez was arrested by the FBI and local police for the case.

Why They Are Intrusions

  1. As said before, they illegally interrupt tv stations, and most people who do this hijack the signal without permission or a permit.
  2. Some intrusions replace a program with disturbing, creepy, weird, religious, pornographic, and propaganda content.
  3. They contain false news and messages mostly intended to cause panic (e.g. "Dead bodies are rising from their graves").
  4. They sometimes interrupt major sports events, shows, movies and even KIDS' SHOWS with pornography. Take the Super Bowl, World Series and Disney Channel for example.
  5. Some intrusions have distorted audio, which can increase the fright factor.
  6. It can easily disturb and scare faint-hearted people.
  7. The unidentified man in the Max Headroom Television hijack mocked things and people in Chicago such as Chuck Swirsky (by calling him a “Frickin’ Liberal”) and WGN, although most likely for comedic purposes or some form of protest.
  8. There were many hijacks in the mid to late 1980s, starting in 1985 and ending in 1988 with the World Series incident.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. They don't happen much anymore since some cable channels are very responsive to block piracy.
  2. MacDougall (Captain Midnight), Haynie (Playboy Channel religious message), and Gonzalez (Super Bowl XLIII interruption) were the only people in piracy television to get arrested and fined.
  3. Although it is creepy and somewhat annoying, some intrusions can make you laugh for some people and viewers.
  4. The Southern Television Vrillon incident has a good message about world peace and nuclear disarmament.

Videos

Southern Television Vrillon interruption (REMAKE)
Captain Midnight incident
Max Headroom incident
News Reports about the Max Headroom incident
Emergency Alert System

Trivia

  • The Captain Midnight and Max Headroom incidents fell into the public domain due to failure of renewing copyright.
    • Speaking of the Max Headroom incident, it has also been the subject of many YTPs and internet memes.
  • The Max Headroom Incident among others served as inspiration for the creepypastas such as The Wyoming Incident.

See Also

Comments

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