The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Explained

The max headroom broadcast intrusion is one set at the center stage of cable television’s influence. While it’s no mystery that the internet has made prime-time cable take a back seat to other forms of entertainment. The story of Max Headroom is a very similar mystery to John Titor. It’s the story of one identity behind and their hijinks that captured the world’s attention.

What Is A Broadcast Signal Intrusion?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “broadcast intrusions”, they are essentially the interruption of a radio or tv station’s signal. In many cases, the purpose of these is to prank the audience and very rarely are these people caught. In the past, these incidents were very easily able to catch a headline, and thus, they became a widely documented phenomenon.

Moreover, the morbid nature of someone taking control of a tv network is incredibly creepy and it’s incredibly fascinating to imagine sitting through one of these events.

Picture yourself living in 1977, in a quiet suburb in which nothing really happens on your side of town.

You keep the TV on during the day for white noise, you have no other media option other than the newspaper. One day among your daily routine, the white noise of the tv is disturbed. All of a sudden, your TV suddenly loses audio and distorted audio then echo’s out.

“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.”

Well that’s exactly what happened to Southern Television.

The First Hack

Alright, now back to the Max Headroom incident…

It was November 22nd, 1987 in the windy city of Chicago, and the station was ready for its nightly programming.

The TV station in question was WGN-TV and during the station’s nine o’clock news segment, the screen would completely cut out.

This completely caught the station off-guard and in its place, a man wearing a Max headroom mask would appear.

Max Headroom

If you’re unfamiliar with the Max headroom character, he was popular around the late 1980s. Max Headroom is considered to be “the first computer-generated TV personality”. Part of his character portrayal is that he is comprised of artificial intelligence. This character was and still is a pop culture icon.

As we get into the second hack, keep in mind that the original Max Headroom character had a computer altered voice.

Notably, the background consisted of a metallic cross-pattern that would move in a hypnotic fashion, similar to the original character’s portrayal.

This hack only lasted 30 seconds, but viewers across the local area would all tune in to the following segment.

This is the first hack in context with the other programming going on at the time.

After this happened, The technical crew at WGN-TV was quick to switch their signal thus ending the broadcast. and had the folks at WGN-TV been slower who knows what other hi-jinks would have gone down on this broadcast.

Dan Roan, one of the newscasters would be quoted later on saying “Well, if you’re wondering what’s happened, so am I.”

And after that the night went on normally for WGN.

Not Done Yet…

It’s safe to presume that our prankster wasn’t satisfied with only 30 seconds of fame.

It was time to up the ante and this time things would be a bit more bizarre.

Later that same night, another tv station by the name of WTTW of channel 11 would be airing their nightly showing of Dr. Who and once again our masked friend would be live on the air, this time with audio…

And boy did he have some things to say…

Notably in this instance we could make some identifying information about this person.

Here is the full transcript of what he said:

That does it…

He’s a fricken nerd.

Yeah, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky.

F*ckin Liberal!


Oh, Jesus!

(Moan / Laugh)

Ohhh Yeahhhh…

Catch The Wave!

(Scream Moan)

Your love is fading…

(Hums the theme of clutch cargo)

I stole CBS…

Ohh… my files!


Oh, I just made a giant masterpiece for all the world’s newspaper nerds.

My brother is wearing the other one…

It’s dirty…

They’re coming to get me!

Come get me b*tch!

Oh, do it!

As you can see this person was a bit all over the place.

It really seems like the main goal of this whole thing was to shock viewers with the unexpected. There isn’t much to take away from the hijacker’s message other than…

“What the hell did I just watch?”

This time there wasn’t anyone on duty at this TV station’s broadcast tower and I believe it might be safe to assume this was originally intended for the first TV station.

Keep in mind the first broadcast failed to have any audio and it was prematurely shut off.

Who Was Behind It?

This is perhaps the main question, but really there are no strong leads. But there’s some analysis I’d like to leave you with as the reader.

Keep in mind that this was a crime.

According to a Vice article various FBI agents that got involved with this cold case said:

“I would like to inform anybody involved in this kinda thing, that there’s a maximum penalty of $100,000, one year in jail, or both.”

That’s reason enough to stay anonymous, and to this day nobody has ever been convicted.

Chuck Swirsky?

If we take a look at the transcript there really only is one interesting angle that can be considered.

You should know that Chuck Swirsky was a play-by-play sportscaster for WGN-TV.

(Keep in mind that the first hack was also targeted during a sports cast)

Note: WGN was the first TV station targeted.

This could be a possible clue for the intrusion.

When that failed, it seems like our Headroom impersonator moved onto another local tv station to try and get the full message out there.

The first hack’s footage seems to be identical to the second intrusion, which makes it apparent that it was pre-recorded.

The interesting part, however, is that Chuck Swirsky is squeaky clean from any enemies so it seems to suggest this was just a prankster?

We may never know who is responsible, but the enduring mystery is certainly something that lets your imagination run wild.

2 thoughts on “The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion Explained

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