2 minute read

June 28, 2007, 10:29 PM

A number of you have seen an away message that I’ve used somewhat frequently on AIM as of late, and have questioned me about it. I might as well explain. The away message was:

$12.95/MONTH ?

It’s actually a little homage to a video pirate from the 1980s. On April 27, 1986 at 12:32 AM, John R. MacDougall engaged in direct action against HBO, protesting subscription fees for HBO that were considered overly high at that time. He had the perfect opportunity to do it, too. Along with his job as a satellite television dealer, he also worked for a company that provided uplink services for satellites. Coincidentally, the transmitter, when in its storage position, pointed directly at the Galaxy I satellite, which at that time carried HBO. So MacDougall launched his protest against HBO’s subscription fees by overriding the signal from HBO’s satellite transmitter. So during a playing of The Falcon and the Snowman on HBO, all of a sudden, HBO viewers saw this:

Photo: Wikipedia

I’m sure many people were quite surprised to see that. And MacDougall had a valid point with his protest. The subscription fees were hurting his satellite sales business.

The law caught up to MacDougall, unfortunately, as he was slapped with a $5,000 fine and a year’s probation. Today, MacDougall still sells satellite dishes.

I think that because MacDougall was standing up for what he believed in, it makes it more than a simple broadcast signal intrusion. It was kind of like a political statement in a way. Compare to the incident the following year, where a man wearing a Max Headroom mask hijacked the signals of WGN and WTTW in Chicago. In that case, it was more like how computer hackers today operate. They do it to prove they can do it. And I think that was the purpose behind that. After all, the video was fairly nonsensical, with that video being most noteworthy for the man in the Max Headroom mask being swatted on his bare bottom with a fly swatter. And don’t worry – you won’t see any away messages about that little incident.

Still, I thought the whole thing was interesting enough to talk about.

Web site: A little about Captain Midnight...

Song: The Starship HBO sequence from the 1980s

Quote: By the way, for those interested, here's the Max Headroom incident, where an episode of Doctor Who was interrupted. Be warned: There is some nudity. I'm also amused that the first words spoken on the regular program after the hijack were, "As far as I can tell, a massive electric shock, he died instantly." It ties in so well, as if Dr. Who himself took out Max Headroom. Also see the Wikipedia article about the incident.

Categories: Activism, Television