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WTTW Channel 11 - Doctor Who - "The Max Headroom Pirating Incident" (1987)

During a broadcast of the Dr. Who episode "Horror of Fang Rock" on WTTW Chicago Channel 11, on Sunday November 22nd, 1987, at around 11:15pm, a Video "Pirate" wearing a Max Headroom mask broke into the signal and transmitted one of the weirdest, unauthorized things ever to hit the Chicago airwaves.

Earlier in the evening on the same day, during the Nine O'Clock News on Channel 9 (Yes, a completely different channel) the Max Headroom Pirate also broke in - although it was for a much shorter time and there was no audio.

Needless to say, Dan Roan (the sports reporter) was a bit flustered.

And no, he was never caught.

My Take: The guy was probably high and/or drunk. Even with the audio distortion, his ramblings don't make much sense. Here's what I am able to make out:

"He's a freaky nerd!"

"This guy's better than Chuck Swirsky." [another WGN sportscaster at the time]

"Oh Jesus!"

"Catch the wave..." [reference to a Coke commercial at the time of which Max Headroom was a spokesperson]

"Your love is fading..."

"Oh, I just made a giant masterpiece printed all over the greatest world newspaper nerds." [??]

"My brother [mother?] is wearing the other one."

"It's dirty..."

"They're coming to get me..."

(Note also that he appears to be wearing a hollowed out dildo on his middle finger.)

Go here to read more details about this event. (alternate website)

Click here to search for related videos.

This clip aired on Sunday, November 22nd 1987, and is included in the following categories:

Viewer Comments

The audio sounds much better (and scarier) now. Cool...
Comment posted by jonrev on Thursday, November 1st 2007 at 7:11pm.

I didn't witness this when it happened, but I did see the initial break-in on WGN's news at about 9:40-9:45. I remember wondering what the hell happened, then all the news coverage the next morning!

This bit of TV history was swept aside when Mayor Harold Washington dropped dead at his desk the following Thursday morning (and I was sick that day and home to witness it....)

Comment posted by SuperCFL on Thursday, November 22nd 2007 at 2:52pm.

I remember the night this happened: I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation instead. I was crushing on Denise Crosby big time. It was all over the news the next day and I was kicking myself for missing it!
Comment posted by 4thtroika on Thursday, November 22nd 2007 at 11:06pm.

Another funny thing about this, it broke into Doctor Who, and the special effects were at about the same level :)
Comment posted by Joey G on Friday, November 23rd 2007 at 1:40am.

Yes, I was taping Doctor who that night as was my custom, and It was I who sold a copy of this VHS tape to Channel 5 news the next day.

They even sent out a newsman and camera crew to interview me at home. The evening news show this clip and the short segement of my interview.

I have since lost the copy I made of the news broadcast and I wonder if someone out there has a copy of this plus my 25 seconds of TV fame :)

Comment posted by bigfish1991 on Thursday, March 6th 2008 at 5:27pm.

bigfish1991 - Sorry I didn't respond earlier to this - been toooo busy. Anyway, that's a cool story. I do have a few different news reports about the pirating incident which I hope to post *eventually*. Even if I don't have it though, the good news is that the MBC should have a copy of that news broadcast as they started recording all local nightly newscasts starting in 1987. By the way, how much did you sell the copy of your tape for? Did you negotiate with them or did they just offer you a set amount? (Do you still have your original tape? Just wondering if it's possibly a quality upgrade)
Comment posted by FuzzyMemories on Monday, March 10th 2008 at 10:59pm.

I DIDN'T SEE THIS INITIALLY MYSELF AS I WAS IN BED AT THE TIME,BUT MY MOM AND DAD SAW THIS ON WGN VIA CABLEVISION(WE HAD MOVED TO MS. BY THEN) AND TOLD ME ABOUT IT THE FOLLOWING MORNING. RELATIVES BACK IN CHICAGO CALLED AND SAID THAT CH. 11 WAS ALSO INTERRUPTED BY "MAX"! THAT WAS WILD!!
Comment posted by 69TH&STONY on Saturday, March 15th 2008 at 10:04am.

I would love to see those news reports, Fuzzy. This hijack has really captured my imagination.
Comment posted by Akbar on Thursday, May 1st 2008 at 5:44pm.

I didn't see this at the time, because I was sleeping (I was in high school). My parents used to watch the comedian that was right before this (Dave Allen) so they turned off the tv before then. This was a big story at the time, even nationally. I've always hoped they'd catch the guy. Not because I cared if he got arrested. I just wanted to know how he did it. I think it's impressive that not only was he able to intercept a broadcast, but he never got caught. Maybe he's here lurking in the shadows. I wish he would appear somewhere since I'm sure statue of limitations has run out by now.
Comment posted by LaPrincess on Monday, May 5th 2008 at 12:38am.

FYI, Mayor Harold Washington passed away on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day; Nov.25.1987. Not Thursday. Anyway it WAS a pretty peculiar week, With the Max Headroom pirating incident on WGN-TV & WTTW-TV to start it off & The sudden death of Mayor Washington to practically end it.
Comment posted by Telenews on Wednesday, May 7th 2008 at 3:02pm.

You've got to know that whoever hijacked WTTW's broadcast tower must have been a total loser living in their parent's basement with a lot of time on their hands and nothing better to do.
Comment posted by CelesteK on Thursday, July 31st 2008 at 2:07pm.

Good idea. Let's try baiting him out of hiding with withering insults. ;-)

Seriously though, they must have had some significant knowledge and equipment or access to said equipment, in order to pull this off.

Comment posted by FuzzyMemories on Thursday, July 31st 2008 at 2:11pm.

> You've got to know that whoever hijacked WTTW's broadcast tower must have been a total loser living in their parent's basement with a lot of time on their hands and nothing better to do

No I'm not ... I mean no he isn't.

Comment posted by Polyrasmatazz on Thursday, July 31st 2008 at 2:47pm.

Ah ha! So tell us, was the spanking thing your idea or the girl's? ;-)
Comment posted by FuzzyMemories on Thursday, July 31st 2008 at 2:53pm.

She was the mastermind ... I mean overpower WTTW from my parents' basement? I can barely receive WTTW in my parents' basement.
Comment posted by Polyrasmatazz on Thursday, July 31st 2008 at 4:08pm.

Sorry. I was just saying that's all. :)
Comment posted by CelesteK on Friday, August 1st 2008 at 5:56pm.

I suppose this guy didn't know that Max Headroom was used to promote Coke not Pepsi?
Comment posted by CelesteK on Monday, November 10th 2008 at 7:56pm.

I just heard that "Max" died awhile ago of cancer and the FBI won't release the name or gravesite due to consideration of his family. Can anyone verify or deny?
Comment posted by Pete on Sunday, May 31st 2009 at 2:10am.

"Oh, I just made a giant masterpiece printed all over the greatest world newspaper nerds." This is a reference to WGN, the initials stand for 'World's Greatest Newspaper". Also, the song he was singing is the theme song to Clutch Cargo, a staple cartoon of Garfield Goose.
Comment posted by markmerlin on Wednesday, June 10th 2009 at 8:46pm.

I really need to update the video description on this one.
Comment posted by FuzzyMemories on Wednesday, June 10th 2009 at 9:45pm.

Oh, yuck! My theory is that Max deliberately made the sound quality really bad, so that it would be harder to figure out who he is. What do you guys think?

Comment posted by Detroiter, but Chicago Fan on Thursday, July 9th 2009 at 6:59am.

Anything is possible with this story,Detroiter.
Comment posted by Pete on Thursday, July 9th 2009 at 1:13pm.

I saw both times they hacked in. It was so funny and creepy. I don't know if it would be possible to do that sort of thing today, but some of the uptight networks and their completely lame TV shows could use a good hacking.
Comment posted by amb1971 on Thursday, July 9th 2009 at 3:57pm.

Yeah. Whoever gets up the courage to do this again should hack every network that broadcasts those stupid "reality" shows.
Comment posted by pacey988 on Thursday, July 9th 2009 at 7:10pm.

Now Fuzzy has posted some news broadcasts reporting the incident.
Comment posted by Loyal32fan on Sunday, August 30th 2009 at 9:14pm.

Has anyone linked to this ever?

I just saw that today.... have no idea if the 'story' is true, but, it is fairly convincing, and not sure what reason the person would have to make it up.

Comment posted by afdave on Wednesday, April 27th 2011 at 11:42am.

At 1:33 he says "Oh, my piles!" Ick.

Anyway, can you imagine being an impressionable youngster deciding to stay up late that night to watch Doctor Who, and then suddenly having this thrown at you? Nightmare city.

Comment posted by Studio76Art on Wednesday, March 27th 2013 at 1:54pm.

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This clip has been viewed 96063 times.
This clip debuted on FuzzyMemories.TV on Tuesday, October 16th 2007.
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Most Recent Site Comments

Comment posted in Marriott's Great America (Commercial, 1979) by pvx on Thursday, September 18th, 2014 at 12:49am CT

In reply to Szake's, T.K.'s, and Fuzzy's comments regarding the letters flashing in the corners of the screen at the beginning--I have seen this as well in other national TV commercials on film from this era.

I have a really good hunch as to what this is--going from my experience working master control in local commercial television and handling the physical airing of commercial spots (albeit much later in the early 2000s on videotape and satellite-delivered video files for on-air playout, as opposed to the film print this commercial is most likely from), this is more than likely an ISCI (Industry Standard Commercial Identifier) code, an unique 4 letter & 4 number identification code assigned to national commercial spots that receive national network and/or local affiliate airing. Each ISCI code is unique to the spot for identification for advertisers, ad agencies, post-production staff, and the station's/network's traffic/logging, ad sales, and and master control personnel. A typical ISCI code is usually in the format of ABCD1234.

I'd hazard to guess that it must of been the industry standard in the 70s to have the ISCI code digits show up on the corners of the first few film frames of the spot, to ease identification for the master control/projectionist/editor at a station to know what spot it was while splicing it together with other commercial films to make a spot reel (or when threading the spot by itself up in a film-chain projector) for airing in a local commercial break.

When the transition to delivering commercials to stations/networks on videotape became more common practice, usually the ISCI code was displayed during the slate & countdown before the spot on the beginning of the tape (obviously not aired, unless the MCO screwed up and switched it up too early ;) )).

I wonder of the ISCI code of this spot is something like xMxHx0x3 (the "x"s being whatever letters/numbers displayed at the left side of the screen, which is mostly cut off in this video), say, something like IMGH1023?


Comment posted in Boxcar Willie - King Of The Road - 20 Great Tracks (Record Offer, 1981) by Phantom on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 5:10pm CT

This album came from Suffolk Marketing which also sold records of Slim Whitman, Jim Nabors, Jim Reeves & Cristy Lane.


Comment posted in Marriott's Great America (Commercial, 1979) by T.K. on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 4:04pm CT

I was able to stop on two frames... the first with M in the upper-right corner and H in the lower-right and the second frame with O in the upper-right and 3 in the lower-right. So... MO, H3? If it was flashing M-O-M, I'd think maybe it was a subliminal message to ask your mother to buy a ticket.


Comment posted in Marriott's Great America (Commercial, 1979) by FuzzyMemories on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 1:39pm CT

Seriously though, it seems like the letters change in each corner very quickly, like it is cycling through something. I also see an 'O' in the upper-right hand corner. Can't we get the conspiracy nuts to break this down for us? This is probably bigger than the "subliminal" station sign-off message. ;-)


Comment posted in Marriott's Great America (Commercial, 1979) by FuzzyMemories on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 1:36pm CT

I still see the X. ;-)


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When Lurie said, "Toronto certainly is a great city and I know the commissioner wants to get a team in Washington," he's referring to the Seattle Mariners, the other American League expansion team that had been announced in January 1976.

The A.L. had been embroiled in a lawsuit with the state of Washington, which accused the league of breach of contract for not allowing a local nonprofit group to purchase the bankrupt Seattle Pilots prior to the 1970 season. (The other owners believed their clubs would be devalued as a result of such an arrangement. Instead, the team was sold to Bud Selig and moved to Milwaukee between the end of spring training and Opening Day 1970.) Granting another expansion franchise to Seattle was the league's way of settling the case and avoid paying $32 million in damages.


Comment posted in Boxcar Willie - King Of The Road - 20 Great Tracks (Record Offer, 1981) by Duck 182 on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 at 3:40am CT

I think I remember my Grandma and Aunt having this on 8 track.


Comment posted in Marriott's Great America (Commercial, 1979) by ER3017 on Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 at 1:19pm CT

I see it too


Comment posted in Marriott's Great America (Commercial, 1979) by Szake on Monday, September 15th, 2014 at 9:14pm CT

You can see a M in the upper right hand corner, an H in the lower right hand corner and an I in the upper left hand corner one second into the video.


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Yes, Steve Dahl had killed disco a month earlier at a White Sox game, but there are still some people who refuse to believe that disco is indeed dead.


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