10 Shocking Incidents of Hackers Interrupting Broadcasts

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If you had the chance to interrupt a TV or radio signal to spread your own message to thousands of people, would you? What would you say? It turns out that radio and TV hackers have done this on several occasions. Some were just pranks. Others were politically motivated messages. But the most disturbing incidents are the ones that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. The most mysterious messages are the ones that still remain unsolved today.

10. Fake Zombie Warning

Daytime television is usually your standard talk shows or dramas, but viewers in Great Falls, Montana got the surprise of their life during an episode of The Steve Wilkos Show, entitled “Teen Cheaters Take Lie Detectors.” The emergency broadcasting system popped up on the screen to warn people about an impending zombie attack. A voiceover announced:

“Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. Follow the messages on your screen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies, as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

The TV station, KRTV, and their parent company, Cordillera Communications, initially reported that they were not going to report it to local law enforcement, because they all had a good laugh at the prank, and there was no harm done. However, the FCC takes these crimes very seriously, and they passed the incident along the the FBI. As far as we know, the hacker was never caught.

9. Vrillon, The Alien Overlord

In 1977, the 5 o’clock news on Southern Television in North Hampshire, UK was interrupted by a deep, static voice of an alien life form:

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….

The broadcast went on for 6 minutes. They went on to say that the Galactic Command  had come from the Intergalactic Association to warn us about the destiny of the human race. The mysterious voice said that humans need to get rid of their weapons and live peacefully, or horrible things would come to pass.

Theorists now believe that the signal was coming from the nearby Isle of Wight, but since no one has ever come forward to take responsibility for the hack, no one can be sure where it came from, or why they pulled off such an elaborate prank. Some believe it may have been done by English members of an alien-loving cult that was known to exist in America. 

8. The Kaluga Incident

One of the earliest known broadcast intrusions was in 1966. This was during the Cold War, so tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were very high, leaving people on edge. At that time, pirate radio was very common, especially in smaller Russian towns.

In Kaluga, a town 100 miles from Moscow, local teenagers interrupted radio transmissions to spit out curse words, or speak against the government. Local authorities tended to feel that it was all in good fun, and let it slide with a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality. The fact that they never got in trouble for their immaturity gave the teens a false sense of confidence that they had outsmarted the authorities. One day, they went a step too far. An unnamed 18-year-old prankster  interrupted jazz music to falsely report that the United States sent nuclear warheads to the USSR, and that they all needed to take shelter, which obviously sent the town into a very real panic. According to newspaper reports he was caught and had his equipment confiscated, but we can’t help but wonder if he may have received a visit from the KGB for added emphasis…

7. Max Headroom Hack

In November 1987, a video of a man wearing a plastic mask of the character Max Headroom interrupted the evening news on WGN Chicago. Employees were able to quickly switch it off the air. After failing this first attempt, the hacker tried again with another local station, WTTW, during an episode of Doctor Who. This time, they succeeded, and viewers saw the video of a man they now call the Max Headroom hacker.

There was no coherent message that anyone can interpret. The hacker spoke in riddles and hummed songs that viewers would later have to identify. He did vulgar things, like hold up a dildo, and expose his rear end so a woman dressed in a costume could slap him. At least one or more people were helping him make the video, but they have never been caught.

While there have been several theories as to who the hacker may have been, all of them involve teenagers, so none of them actually make much sense. In order to pull this off, the hacker would have had to have equipment that was equal to, or more powerful than, the signal of the TV station. This means that someone either broke into a TV station to play the tape, or it could have been done by disgruntled employees. But who would go through so much trouble and risk arrest just to do play a prank? It’s very possible that there is more to the message that we don’t understand.

6. Israeli Hack

In 2016, Channel 2 in Israel was playing an episode of Big Brother when it was interrupted by a hacker from the Palestinian terror group, Hamas. The message showed images of dead bodies and funerals. It went over every single instance when an Israelite killed a Palestinian, and told Israelites to leave the country, or there would be a reign of terror over them.

This hack, obviously, was no joke. All of this is very real. The war between Israel and Palestine has been going on for years, and as modern technology advances, it’s not surprising that hackers would move on with those tactics as part of the battle.

5. The Playboy Block

Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, so it only makes sense that hardcore Christians would be against the Playboy Channel. In 1987, an employee of a TV station called The Christian Broadcast Network named Thomas Haynie decided to interrupt adult content stations with Biblical verses. One of the messages was typed out in block letters:

“THUS SAYETH THE LORD THY GOD… REMEMBER THE SABBATH AND KEEP IT HOLY. REPENT. THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND!!”

He did this three times. When the FCC sent him to court, he was charged three years of probation, 150 hours of community service, and he had to pay a $1,000 fine.

4. The Captain Midnight Broadcast

In the 1980s, anyone who installed a satellite dish on their roof could pick up HBO for free, in addition to extra channels they may not otherwise get with their basic cable package. 25-year-old Florida resident John MacDougall had a satellite dish business, and the majority of his customers came from people looking to get HBO. In 1986, HBO began to scramble their satellite signal, and demanded $12.95 a month to watch their content. This meant MacDougall’s dish business would soon go bankrupt.

MacDougall owned a 30-foot industrial grade satellite in front of his store, so he essentially had his own TV station. He gave himself the superhero nickname “Captain Midnight.” Instead of using his powers for good, he essentially did the equivalent of an angry YouTube comment about the situation. He interrupted the HBO signal just to spread this message: “Good Evening, HBO. From Captain Midnight. $12.95 a month? No way!! (Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!)” The message stayed on air for four minutes straight before the network was able to remove it.

Hellfire rained down on the employees at HBO for having a vulnerable satellite signal, and the Hughes Corporation even threatened to shut the network down if they could not find the man responsible for the hack. They feared that someone had gotten control over the system.

In the media, HBO called Captain Midnight “A Domestic Terrorist” and the FCC threatened to fine the culprit $100,000 if he did not appear in court. The FBI found MacDougall, and arrested him. The judge reduced his sentence to a $5,000 fine. Years later, MacDougall says he doesn’t regret the hack, because he still believes the corporation was over-charging their customers.

3. The Handy Manny Incident

In 2007, someone hacked a children’s TV show playing on the Disney Channel at 9:30 AM in Middletown, New Jersey called Handy Manny and inserted a video clip with pornography. The transmission came from an employee at the local Comcast television facility. Comcast released a public statement saying that they were having an internal meeting to investigate the issue, but there was never any follow-up letting the press know if they ever identified the person who slipped in the video.

According to one father who called to report the incident, his 5-year-old son was upset, but not because of the images he saw on the screen. When the father quickly turned off the television set, the boy thought it meant that he was in trouble, but he couldn’t understand what he did wrong. Hopefully, those kids won’t end up in therapy down the line.

2. The Area 51 Caller

In 1997, a DJ named Art Bell ran a radio show Coast to Coast AM, which specializes in news related to claims of paranormal phenomena. At around 1:00 AM, he received a phone call live on the air from someone claiming to be a former employee at Area 51. The man sounds scared and in a panic, as if he needs to tell the truth to the public before it’s too late. He says that he has been on the run across the country, because “extra-dimensional beings” have infiltrated NASA and Area 51, and that the aliens are planning to create disasters in major cities in order to have more control over the human population.

Listening back to the recording of the phone call, the man sounds genuinely scared. About 3 minutes into their conversation, something interrupts the radio transmission. The phone call begins to break up, and there was total silence for several seconds. When Art Bell came back on the air, he claimed that their equipment suddenly had a “massive heart attack” and their show had to go on a backup system.

If the caller was lying, he is a very talented actor, and Coast to Coast AM would have had to be in on it. Then, of course, if you believe in aliens, there is always the possibility that it could be real. Over 20 years has passed since the incident, and there still has never been anyone to come forward claiming responsibility for this call.

1. The War of the Worlds

On the night before Halloween in 1938, a New York radio station called the Columbia Broadcasting System (which eventually became CBS) played out an hour-long drama called War of the Worlds, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. The radio play was written by Orson Welles, who would later go on to become the famous director of Citizen Kane.

The drama plays out like a typical radio broadcast. Music is interrupted with news that explosions have been seen on the surface of Mars. It cuts back to the music again, and continues to go back and forth with reports of a UFO landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. For anyone who tuned in at any time after the initial introduction, many people believed that this was actually true. According to The New York Times, hundreds of people called the police, and there were traffic jams of people trying to evacuate the East Coast.

However, according to an investigation by Snopes, they believe that many of the stories in the media were exaggerated, and that very few people who were listening to the show actually believed it was real. Either way, War of the Worlds is still remembered as being one of the greatest radio pranks of all time. Today, there is a monument at the real-life location of the fictional “Martian Landing Site” in New Jersey.

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