Chicago. November 22, 1987. On the screen ahead, the face of Tom Baker appears amid psychedelic colors and the theme song from DOCTOR WHO bursts from the television. Somewhere on a desolate English coast a lighthouse beam reaches into the night. Just beyond the lighthouse, a purple ball of fire appears and falls into the ocean, glowing deeply from the water below. A young man watching through a telescope calls to his co-workers below, but the light has faded by the time two other men have joined him. The oldest one of them says that it was probably a meteor and they return to their waiting dinner below. From beneath the water, something watches through a green haze. A sudden fog rises up and begins to engulf the lighthouse. It’s not long before another light appears from within the growing mist. It appears to be a police call box, spinning through time. A foghorn begins to moan. The TARDIS lands along the shore and a woman emerges, wearing a fancy dress, and says that she doesn’t like Brighton very much. The Doctor joins her outside, his trademark scarf blowing in the wind, and informs Leela that this is not Brighton. “That’s odd,” the Doctor says, “A lighthouse without a light.” While they decide to go investigate, one of the men inside the lighthouse goes to check on the generator. In the depths of the coal room, something green appears before him. His screams are drowned out by the wail of the lighthouse’s foghorn. Leela and the Doctor meet the other men at the lighthouse. He explains that their ship got lost in the fog and says that he might be able to help. While the Doctor leaves with one of the men to check below, Leela stays with the younger man. It’s obviously been a long time since he’s seen a woman. “It’s a lonely life up in the lighthouse,” he says, “I go out sometimes to talk to the seals. You know, just to get a change from Reuben and Ben.” “Seals are animals?” “Well, yes.” “That’s stupid. You should talk often with the old ones of your tribe. That’s the only way to learn.” The young man seems confused. “Um, I’ll get you a hot drink – ” Sudden television static. A face appears, wearing a freakish Max Headroom mask and sunglasses, bobbing wildly about. Behind him a sheet of corrugated metal tilts crazily to and fro. An eerie distortion pours from the television speakers. The figure is spouting nonsense, moaning, screaming, laughing. This is definitely not part of the regularly scheduled programming. ” . . . frickin’ nerd . . . better than Chuck Swirsky . . . freakin’ liberal . . . ” The metal panel spins behind him. Hypnotic. He whips something out for a moment. Maybe a middle-finger made of foam, maybe a rubber penis. It quickly disappears at the bottom of the screen. Then a can of Pepsi, yelling the new slogan for Coke. “Catch the wave!” He’s humming, humming, the theme from the Sixties cartoon CLUTCH CARGO – ” . . . your love is fading!” Coming back with the maybe-penis, throwing it to the floor. ” . . . I still see the X! . . . ” Moaning, moaning, something about his piles, or maybe his files. Followed by the sound of flatulence. ” . . . I just made a giant masterpiece for all the world’s greatest newspaper nerds . . . ” Holding up a glove similar to the one worn by Michael Jackson at the time. ” . . . my brother is wearing the other one – ” Putting the glove on. ” – but it’s dirty! It’s like you, it’s got blood stains on it!” Tears off the glove and throws it down. The picture suddenly cuts. A shot of his lower torso. Buttocks exposed. We still don’t see his face, but he’s holding the mask now. Max Headroom looking behind him, middle-finger penis in its mouth. Howling. ” . . . they’re coming to get me!” And behind him, right side of the screen, someone in a French maid outfit. A voice says ” . . . bend over, bitch”. Or maybe ” . . . come get me, bitch!” The French maid starts to spank him, lazily, with a flyswatter. He screams, loudly. Louder still. The scream becomes a distorted symphonic drone – The transmission goes dark. The screen crackles and the Doctor appears again, in mid-sentence. ” – as far as I can tell, a massive electrical shock. He must have died instantly.” POPCORN: Dude, what the fuck??? CINEMA: It’s called broadcast intrusion, essentially when someone hacks into a television or radio program and replaces it with their own message or images. This particular one happened around 11:15pm on Channel 11, the PBS affiliate WTTW. It’s almost thirty years later and they still have never caught the person who did it. POPCORN: Freaky, man. Not gonna lie, though . . . kinda cool. CINEMA: The Max Headroom show had actually been cancelled a few weeks prior to this. It began in the UK, circa 1985, with Max essentially as the host of a music show. Lasted about thirty episodes, then ABC reshot it here in a different format. It was a mid-season replacement, which got picked up for a second season, but then was unceremoniously dumped halfway through. Poor Max couldn’t keep up with DALLAS and MIAMI VICE. POPCORN: The dude, like, lived in the computer . . . CINEMA: He started out as muckraking reporter Edison Carter, investigating shady corporations in a dystopian near-future, when he found out that his own network was airing an ad that could kill viewers. He got captured, knocked out – POPCORN: – and the last thing he saw was a sign on an underpass, MAX. HEADROOM 2.3 Meters or something – CINEMA: Yeah, yeah, and the network’s criminal masterminds download his brain into a computer so they could examine it. But it didn’t work out exactly as they’d hoped, since he kept breaking into their broadcasts to mock them – POPCORN: Kinda like ol’ boy here. CINEMA: Exactly like ol’ boy here. Some of his references were to WGN – also in Chicago – where a shorter intrusion took place a few hours before this one. POPCORN: He said Chuck Swirsky. That dude used to announce for the Bulls – CINEMA: Yeah, Swirsky was fairly prominent on WGN radio at the time. The ‘world’s greatest newspaper nerds’ was a reference to the station, whose call letters stood for World’s Greatest Newspaper. Speculation was that he had been screwed over by the network, that he had probably worked there – POPCORN: – and since he knew how to do all this cool stuff, it was better than just takin’ a shit in the sink like everyone else. CINEMA: Back in the day, it wouldn’t have been difficult to hijack a TV or radio signal, provided you had the equipment. Stations shot their signals from the studio to the transmitter, usually atop tall buildings, but everything was in analog – POPCORN: Dude, you’re speakin’ Nerd again – CINEMA: Basically, there was no security for these transmissions. Other than the fact that it was unlikely that anyone could afford this type of equipment, or would know what to do with it if they had it. POPCORN: Kinda like leaving a dog bone up on a shelf where your dog can’t get it. CINEMA: More or less. You know it’s there, he knows it there, but what’s anyone going to do about it? But this equipment could have been purchased used in ’87 for, maybe, a thousand bucks, including a smallish dish antenna (if you knew where to look). So the hacker switches on their own transmission equipment from a high location, like a roof, somewhere between the studio and the Sears Tower, where the transmitter would have been. They overpower the STL with their own frequencies – POPCORN: – pop in their pre-recorded VHS – CINEMA: – exactly! – and climb right up to the higher shelf and snatch the dog bone. POPCORN: And they never got the dude? CINEMA: Well, FCC resources were limited for tracking down Max Headroom, especially when all he had really done was make a creepy nuisance of himself during an episode of Doctor Who. Rumors persisted that the guy was a local performance artist, part of the local hacking culture, possibly autistic, all kinds of things . . . but, really, they got nothin’. POPCORN: Was that the first time this shit happened? Cuz I heard of others . . . CINEMA: No, broadcast signal intrusion was a common thing in the USSR throughout the 70s and the 80s. There wasn’t much on the airwaves out there, other than “the government is good, you love the government, the government loves you” . . . and Russian people aren’t really all that different than American people, when it all comes down – POPCORN: Shut up and play some music? CINEMA: That, and the fact that we all get bored in much the same way. As early as 1966, there was an incident in the Russian city of Kaluga, where an eighteen-year old young man cut into the Soviet broadcast with an announcement. It said that nuclear war had broken out with the United States – POPCORN: Would you like to play a game? How ’bout some Thermonuclear Chess? CINEMA: – and, having little else to go on from their leaders, a momentary panic broke out among the Russian people. The government quickly regained control, however, describing the incident – and the rash of them which broke out in later decades – as “radio hooligans broadcasting drivel, rudeness, vulgarity, uncensored expressions, and trashy music . . . ” POPCORN: Like Christian Slater in PUMP UP THE VOLUME. CINEMA: Right on. Meanwhile, on November 26, 1977, there was a broadcast interruption of the local UK station Southern Television . . . the evening news was being read by Andrew Gardner, when the sound cut out. All video remained unaffected, but instead of Gardner’s voice, there was a deep buzzing sound and the following message . . . “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 in order that you may share in the great awakening, as the planet passes into the Age of Aquarius. The New Age can be a time of great peace and evolution for your race – ” POPCORN: It’s hippie Gort. CINEMA: Definitely something being smoked here. ” – 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 – ” POPCORN: Hey, was this L. Ron Hogwart? CINEMA: You mean Hubbard, the creator of Scientology? POPCORN: Yeah, that dude. If he starts talkin’ some shit, like, “For more information on how to not get screwed, please send twenty bucks and naked pics of your girlfriend to – ” ” – be aware that there are many false prophets and guides 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 – ” POPCORN CINEMA: Oooohhh!!! ” – you must learn to be sensitive to the voice within that can tell you what is truth, and what is confusion, chaos, and untruth – ” CINEMA: Oh, wait, I think that voice is trying to speak to me right now. POPCORN: Yeah, dude. It even comes with a scent. Can’t you smell it? CINEMA: I think I can. It smells and sounds suspiciously like – POPCORN CINEMA: Bullshit!! ” – you know now that we are here, and that there are more beings on and around your Earth than your scientists admit – ” POPCORN: Alright, enough of that. CINEMA: Okay, this is probably more up your alley. In the early morning of April 27, 1986, the HBO satellite feed was jammed by someone calling himself Captain Midnight – POPCORN: “Captain Midnight! His country calls, and aviation’s greatest hero flies again in a one-man war against crime! – ” CINEMA: – the interruption occurred in the middle of THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, lasting up to five minutes. It consisted, simply, of this message superimposed over colored bars: “Goodevening HBO from Captain Midnight $12.95/Month? No Way!” This set off a nationwide manhunt – POPCORN: What, for real? CINEMA: – which ultimately led to a 25-year old satellite dish salesman in Ocala, Florida, whose business had begun to falter due to HBO’s price increase. He was just a small business owner, really, a little guy momentarily overtaken by his rage at the powers that be. He swung his dish around to point at the satellite Galaxy One, which carried the eastern feed of HBO. Just as he did every night. He was a polite kind of guy, but he was very angry. He realized that he could send out a message, right now. So he did. But then, about as quickly as he had decided to post his message, he decided to abandon it . . . POPCORN: Let me get this right. Old boy was, like, super-pissed – CINEMA: I don’t know about super-pissed. He was . . . incensed. POPCORN: Oh, he was incensed. So he grew some balls for about five minutes, said some shit about how expensive HBO was. Then they set the dogs on his ass, this nationwide manhunt – CINEMA: The HBO chairman at the time contacted the FCC, seemed to overstate the threat. Going on about calls threatening to move Galaxy One into a new orbit. Then the FCC got themselves worked up into a frenzy, telling everyone that the incident had much bigger implications, a threat to national security, that kind of thing. According to an article in TIME magazine that year, he was captured through a combination of “space-age sleuthing and old-fashioned legwork” – POPCORN: Space-age sleuthing. Come on, man. Wasn’t like Captain Midnight was some master criminal. Dude probably wore a Members Only jacket and whacked off to the bra section in Sears catalogs. CINEMA: So what would you have done with your five minutes of fame? POPCORN: Probably porn. CINEMA: You would have broadcast porn? POPCORN: Sure, why not? CINEMA: Well, it’s already been done. There was gay porn spliced into CHCH-TV’s morning news feed in Ontario. There was the Super Bowl XLIII broadcast in Arizona, interrupted by something called WILD CHERRIES 5. In 2007, Disney’s kids show HANDY MANNY was replaced by amateur footage of a hand job . . . POPCORN: Buh-HAHAHA!!! CINEMA: You would find that funny. POPCORN: Handy . . . really? Dude, inappropriate’s always funny. That shit’s been the basis of comedy since Abbott and Costello. Like this dude, Romayne Davis, in Broward County. Ol’ boy was runnin’ some hip-hop pirate radio outta his laptop, bustin’ into South Florida’s Classical station for months. For months, dude . . . imagine tuning in for some of that old coma music, but hearin’ “She poppin’, she rollin’, climbin’ that pole, and I’m in love with a stripper. . .” CINEMA: Okay, that’s kinda funny. But not as funny as the guy who broke into the Playboy Channel’s feed in September of 1987, displaying a message that said “Repent and Find Jesus” – POPCORN: Dude, not funny at all. You’re in mid-yank. Then, all of a sudden, here’s Jesus – CINEMA: No. Stop. POPCORN: There was that one out in Great Falls, Montana . . . CINEMA: With Jesus? POPCORN: No, Steve Wilkos. His show was up there with a bunch of teen cheaters. Just about to take the lie detectors, then – BOOM! The station’s emergency broadcast alarm cuts in. This announcer starts going on about “the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living” – CINEMA: No shit? POPCORN: Oh yeah. He’s all “do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies, as they should be considered extremely dangerous” . . . warnings scrolling across the top of the screen, listin’ off Montana counties that should be gettin’ ready for the zombie apocalypse . . . CINEMA: There was a zombie warning in Marquette, Michigan too, just a couple years ago. POPCORN: Pretty sure those were the same night. CINEMA: Wait, that was the one where the police lieutenant . . . who was named Shane, he spoke about getting numerous calls that night, people checking to make sure the Walking Dead wasn’t for real. And this cop, he actually had to stop and ask himself, “Wait. What if?” POPCORN: Crazy shit, dude. CINEMA: No, I’ve got one that’s even crazier. This might not seem like the same kind of thing, but stick with me here. POPCORM: With you, dude. CINEMA: So there’s this huge radio telescope in Ohio. They call it the Big Ear, because it can supposedly hear damn-near everything way out beyond the furthest reaches of our galaxy. On August 15, 1977, it picks up this signal . . . turning off, then turning on again . . . from the northwest of the constellation Sagittarius, from a point in space where there are no planets and no solar systems. POPCORN: What the hell’s that mean? CINEMA: There’s been lots of speculation, but . . . it would almost have to be a ship of some kind. Since there is, quite simply, nothing in the space where it originated. It was, literally, a message shot to Earth from one of the emptiest places imaginable. POPCORN: Dude, that’s creepy. CINEMA: Or hopeful. The guy who found the signal tried to deny that it could be anything extraterrestrial. It was signals from Earth, he said, reflecting off space debris. But it was this person himself who, in the margins of the telescope’s transcript, amidst the very scientific sequence of numbers and letters . . . scribbled the exclamation of WOW! when he initially discovered this transmission. POPCORN: Creepy. CINEMA: Numerous attempts have been made to find the signal again, with bigger and better telescopes, but nothing has been detected so far. It’s as if whatever made the signal, simply vanished . . . or didn’t want us to know that it was there in the first place. POPCORN: Tellin’ you, dude. The only reason somebody’s coming here from another planet, they need food. CINEMA: Well, never fear, my friend. In 2012, on the 35th anniversary of the mysterious WOW! signal, an observatory in Puerto Rico beamed a response from humanity in the direction of that original signal. It contained over ten thousand Twitter messages, celebrity videos, and probably hundreds of memes, all in the hopes of letting other life forms know about us here on Earth. Imagine the life-forms from other planets, knowing about all of our movies and TV shows before they even get here . . . POPCORN: Dude, we’re fucked. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.