On a Sunday evening in the late 1980's, two or more unknown men hijacked the signal for two Chicago area TV stations. They broadcast a spooky, subversive, disturbing message -- twice. Brooke talks to Bohus Blahut, a Chicago broadcaster, who saw the broadcast and was unable to forget it.
Doctor Who Theme - Delia Derbyshire/Ron Grainer
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Once television seemed like a fortress impregnable, a lighthouse beamed directly, reliably into nearly every American home. On an ordinary Sunday evening, say, November 22, 1987 in Chicago, TV was predictability itself, firmly controlled by its anointed gatekeepers, until that control was stolen twice in one night, first, when a man in a “Max Headroom” mask silently broke into the broadcast of the 9 o’clock news, and then when he intruded into an 11 p.m. broadcast of “Dr. Who.”
[DR. WHO CLIP]:
LEELA: The creature has got into the lighthouse. Now we must fight for our lives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That clip was from that fateful episode of “Dr. Who,” but here’s what that actual interruption sounded like.
BROADCAST INTRUDER: That does it. He’s a freakin’ nerd.
[BROADCAST SOUNDTRACK/UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When the Max Headroom man with a fixed leer
spoke with a voice deliberately distorted [DISTORTED SOUND], he executed a series of creepy antics, culminating in pulling down his pants and howling [DISTORTED HOWLS], while a man in an apron slapped his naked bottom with a fly swatter. Chicago TV producer Bohus Blahut was a kid back in 1987.
[DISTORTED SOUNDTRACK/UP AND UNDER]
BOHUS BLAHUT: I was quite wigged out. You know, did I pick up an errant signal from Mars, was this from the future? And this shock – you know, you’re taken out of a super cheap BBC drama and suddenly brought into somebody’s garage.
BOB GARFIELD: Maybe he was picking up something from the future, some 25 years into the future, when TV’s traditional order is disrupted and flickering images penetrate your home from everywhere and everyone across a variety of platforms. The truth is many TV consumers are wigged out, bewildered by the multitude of options in 2012. That’s why we’re devoting this hour to the agitated unruly business of television.