Down the Rabbit Hole: The Max Headroom Incident of November 1987
It makes us a little sad inside to see websites naming historic events that occurred but they neglect to speak of the most famous broadcast takeover of all time.. an epic event for whoever was able to hijack a major TV station in a major city not once, but twice..
November 24, 1987.. A day that will live in broadcast infamy..
Before but we go there, let’s first explore the vast memory hole to recall this strange Max Headroom character.
He was a fictional artificial intelligence creation known for bad jokes and a stuttering, electronically altered voice. The character was introduced in early 1985 and was created by George Stone, Annabel Jankel, and Rocky Morton..
He even shilled for NEW COKE:
Catch the wave.. it was just awful.
But yet the artificial intelligence figure became a Reagan-era pop culture icon.
The more sinister MAX HEADROOM was revealed during one of the most famous–and to this date unsolved–television hijackings of all time..
It officially has became known as the Max Headroom incident..
This is how a UPI dispatch reported events on November 24, 1987:
CHICAGO (UPI): The Federal Communications Commission joined the hunt for a video pirate who broke into regular programming at two television stations with footage of a person portraying the high-tech TV character Max Headroom.
The first interruption at “superstation” WGN occurred during the sports segment of the local news broadcast and lasted about 20 seconds, but was tame in comparison to the second break-in, which occurred on public television station WTTW. That interruption lasted about 09 seconds.
Both break-ins featured a person wearing a mask of “Max Headroom,” the computer-generated TV character,
During the WTTW break-in, the character dropped his pants, displayed a profile of his buttocks, and was spanked with what appeared to be be a fly-swatter by someone off camera.
This may sound minimal in controversy compared to TV of today.. but consider this: At the time, many who saw it twice in the Chicago area considered it a home invasion.. they were dismayed by what they say. Creeped out about the event, and even felt endangered in the safety of their living rooms.
Law enforcement, the FCC, and the FBI considered it a crime: It was a hijacking of a public television transmission.. and those who witnessed it felt beyond uneasy.
To this day, the Max Headroom incident is unsolved.. Perhaps that is the biggest takeaway. Other hijackings of the 1980’s were solved. This one, however rudimentary it seemed, was unresolved to this day.
Here was the first mini-hijack during the 9pm news on WGN.
News broadcasters tried to laugh the uncomfortable hijacking off, quickly turning back to the topic of sports.. They blamed the computer for going “wild.”
This was the second and longer hijacking that took place during the DR WHO episode during the 11pm time slot:
Theories have abounded through the years.. Perhaps an angry terminated employee? An intelligent electrical engineer hellbent on causing mayhem.. a simple person in a garage with sophisticated technology looking for attention.
Some believe it had to be an inside job, that the event could not have taken place without a higher degree of technology needed to pull it off. No time for amateurs during a hijacking of this caliber, some would believe.
What is known is this: Workers at the station worked feverishly to gain control back after the hijacking.
The fact it remains unsolved is amazing..
The hijack is not the impressive thing in itself, the fact that the people who did it have managed to keep the secret for so many years is the impressive part.
This is how the AP reported the story a day later on November 23, 1987:
NOT THE FIRST HIJACKING
Long before the 87′ hijack, another weird broadcast intrusion occurred ..
A frigidly cold evening in 1977 in England just past 5pm…. Those watching television were treated to a strange intrusion that has been dubbed the “Alien TV broadcast.”
As the news broadcast continued, a strange interruption occurred..
This is the text of what was purportedly said during the hijack:
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 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 on 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.
A spokesperson at the time for Southern Television said, “A hoaxer jammed our transmitter in the wilds of North Hampshire by taking another transmitter very close to it.”
And like the Max Headroom incident, it has remained unsolved..
AND NOT THE LAST HIJACKING.. and not the last
Here are some other eerie broadcast hijackings …
Here was HBO’s Captain Midnight hijacking in 1986 complaining about $12.95 a month for HBO:
During the Steve Wilkos show, a hijacker was able to intrude and warn of zombues coming to attack.
But come on.. who could MAX HEADROM be!?
Some believe that Eric Fournier was behind the famed Max Headroom incident.
Over the years, investigators have struggled to narrow down their search to any one particular suspect. However, one person has remained on the forefront of online discussions regarding the Max Headroom incident, and that is a man named Eric Fournier.
Eric grew up in the Bloomington-region of Indiana, just a few hours south of Chicago. He was known for being brights and charismatic, but having a very strange sense of humor. In the mid-1980’s, as Eric was entering adulthood, he began playing with some punk rock bands in the Chicago region, including the bands The Blood Farmers and Skelegore.
Rumors have circulated that when Eric Fournier began playing with the Blood Farmers, he might have been involved in the Max Headroom incident. This claims blossom from the belief that the band had borrowed equipment from a local TV station to record a music video, and planned to play it over the airwaves – a la Max Headroom. However, they knew that playing their own music video would put a target on their backs and incriminate them, so they decided to do something weird with it instead: something truly punk rock and bizarre.
Allegedly, they let Eric take the lead on the whole thing, and he ended up recording the Max Headroom video and orchestrating the hijacking.
These rumors have sprouted up in the years since, because Eric Fournier left the punk rock scene in the mid-1990’s, and seemed to move his focus to a fictional character he had created named Shaye Saint John.
But we will NEVER know for sure:
Many believe that if Fournier wasn’t involved in the Max Headroom incident, then he was most likely inspired by it. He would have been 19 years old at the time, and it was a national story that would have attracted his attention in some way.
Unfortunately, we will likely never know the full story of Eric Fournier. He died in February of 2010, at the age of 42. The cause of death was believed to be related to alcoholism, which Fournier had been silently struggling with for years.
For what it’s worth, one of Fournier’s childhood friends and former band mates, Harry Burgan, discounts the rumors against Eric. He wholly believes that Eric didn’t have anything to do with the incident, and has spoken out against this theory in the years since.
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