November 22, 1987: Chicago, Illinois
For 90 seconds on the evening of November 22, PBS affiliate WTTW was held prisoner, as a masked bandit hijacked WTTW's STL signal and beamed its pirate message across the third largest city in the United States. What message was about to be forced onto the unsuspecting people of Chicago?
A plea for world peace?
A call to arms against AIDS?
Instead, Chicagoans were audience to someone in a Max Headroom mask, in what appeared to be either a garage or an attempt at simulating the Max Headroom CGI found in the namesake show — given the corrugated metal that was swaying back-and-forth in the background for most of the broadcast — with a garbled audio feed, throwing stuff around and making nonsensical hand gestures before finally ending his reign of insanity with a female accomplice giving his bare rump a whacking with a flyswatter.
WTTW was not the only...er, host...of this prankster, WGN-TV had a similar situation earlier in the evening, but had a backup studio-transmitter link (STL) enabling it to kill the pirate signal within seconds. Despite both an FBI and FCC investigation into the matter, no one has ever been charged. There is an persistent rumor that it may have simply been a bored college student. A video of the 90 second WTTW interruption is available here.
9:00 PM: Chicagoans sit down for WGN-TV's nightly news broadcast.
9:14 PM: WGN-TV's STL (Studio to Transmitter Link) is hijacked. Viewers watching sports anchor Dan Roan talking about the Chicago Bears are interrupted by our beloved Max Headroom lookalike for 25 seconds before the station switches to its backup STL. When the pirate signal ends, Roan says "... If you're wondering what just happened, well, so am I."
11:10 PM: WTTW viewers watching an episode of Doctor Who are abruptly greeted by Max Headroom who entertains them for 90 seconds before ending his transmission. WTTW had no control over their transmitter during this time, and could not have stopped the pirate signal.