On a Sunday evening in the late 1980s, 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: When you give to On the Media by December 31st, you do three things at the same time. You support the program, you enrich your community by strengthening public radio for all listeners, and you get a tax deduction. Don’t forget, your gift today will help pay for another year of On the Media in 2013. Visit onthemedia.org to make your tax-deductible gift now, or text OTM to 25383 – that’s 25383 - and a $10 donation will appear on your next phone bill. And thank you.
[TV SOUNDTRACK/UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media, I’m Brooke Gladstone.
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 22nd 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: He’s a freakin’ nerd. [GIGGLING]
[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.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
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 re-airing a special hour devoted to the agitated unruly business of television. We initially looked at the state of the small screen back in May. This is an updated version of a universe that is changing literally before our eyes.