I wrote a bit about the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion for Wired today:
Around 9 o’clock on November 22, 1989, Chicago residents witnessed this epic hack. The evening news sportscast cut out, and a person in a strange mask appeared, dancing around in front of a spinning piece of metal—a rather dark incarnation of Max Headroom, the rather inexplicable character at the heart of the British TV series Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into The Future and two subsequent TV shows. On these shows, Headroom had a tendency to interrupt the broadcasts of the fictional TV station Network 23, but this wasn’t an authorized appearance by the character. It was a real pirate transmission.
After about 30 seconds, WGN’s technicians were able to override the pirate signal. “Well, if you’re wondering what’s happened, so am I,” the station’s sports anchor Dan Roan said when the signal was restored. But two hours later, PBS affiliate station WTTW’s broadcast of Doctor Who was similarly interrupted. This time, the pranksters were able to broadcast their entire video, complete with audio. And what nightmarish audio it was. “Yeah, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky!” the infiltrator announced in a high pitched, distorted voice, referring to the Chicago area sports announcer.
Vice Motherboard has the most in-depth look at the incident that I’ve seen, and those looking for something longer than my piece but shorter than the Vice piece should check out Chicago Radio and Media‘s article. And the Chicago Tribune‘s contemporaneous coverage is worth a read too.