A broadcast signal intrusion is the hijacking of broadcast signals of radio, television stations, cable television broadcast feeds or satellite signals. Hijacking incidents have involved local TV and radio stations as well as cable and national networks.
Although television, cable and satellite broadcast signal intrusions tend to receive more media coverage, radio station intrusions are more frequent, as many simply rebroadcast a signal received from another radio station. All that is required is an FM transmitter that can overpower the same frequency as the station being rebroadcast. Other methods that have been used in North America to intrude on legal broadcasts include breaking into the transmitter area and splicing audio directly into the feed.
As a cable television operator connects itself in the signal path between individual stations and the system’s subscribers, broadcasters have fallen victim to signal tampering on cable systems on multiple occasions.
“Vrillon” on Southern Television
On November 26, 1977, an audio message, purporting to come from outer space, was broadcast during an ITN news bulletin on Southern Television in the UK. The intrusion did not affect the video signal but replaced the program audio with warnings as to the destiny of the human race and a disaster to affect “your world and the beings on other worlds around you”. The IBA confirmed that it was the first time such a transmission had been made. None of the individuals responsible for the intrusion have been identified, although some people believe that the message could have originated from an alien race. However, others have pointed out that the fact the “alien” voice spoke with a British accent and the fact that the “aliens” only managed to hijack a TV station in rural southern England make it more likely the source was a local human, possibly even one or more broadcast students, pulling a hoax.
Captain Midnight on HBO
At 12:32 a.m. Eastern Time on April 27, 1986, HBO (Home Box Office) had its satellite signal feed from its operations center on Long Island in Hauppauge, New York interrupted by a man calling himself “Captain Midnight”. The interruption occurred during a presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The intrusion lasted between 4 and 5 minutes and was seen by viewers along the East Coast. The man, who during the interruption also threatened to hijack the signals of Showtime and The Movie Channel, was later caught and identified as John R. MacDougall of Ocala, Florida. He was prosecuted shortly thereafter. Authorities were tipped off by a man from Wisconsin in a phone booth at a rest area off Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Florida. The man filing the report said that he overheard MacDougall bragging about it.
MacDougall’s guilt was confirmed by an FCC investigation that showed he was alone at Central Florida Teleport at the time of the incident and a recording of the jamming video showed that the text was created by a character generator at that location. He was charged with transmitting without a radio license in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 301. MacDougall pled guilty and was fined $5,000 and served a year probation. Ambiguity about whether the 47 USC 301 charge was applicable since the transmitter had a license resulted in the passage of 18 U.S.C. § 1367 which made satellite jamming a felony.
MacDougall was able to perform the intrusion while working a second job as a master control operator at a satellite teleport in Florida, where he worked to make ends meet due to declining income from his satellite TV equipment business. He stated that he did it because he was frustrated with HBO’s service rates, and that it was hurting his business selling satellite dishes (hence his second job at the teleport). The message, placed over SMPTE color bars, broadcast by MacDougall read:
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
NO WAY !
[SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]
Playboy’s satellite network was intentionally “jammed” with a text-only message on the night of Sunday, September 6, 1987. The message read, “Thus sayeth the Lord thy God. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (The verses were taken from Exodus 20:8 and Matthew 4:17 in the Bible.)
The white text and black background of the message prevented viewers from seeing the movie that Playboy was running at the time called Three Daughters. (Playboy’s feed was on RCA Satcom 4, transponder 24.)
Thomas Haynie of Virginia Beach, Virginia was convicted of satellite piracy in September 1990 in Norfolk, Virginia federal court in connection with the incident. Haynie was an uplink engineer at the Christian Broadcasting Network, a television ministry in Virginia Beach. He was on duty at the time of the jamming.
According to investigators, it was the religious content of the transmission and the type of equipment used that drew them to CBN. The jamming signal left behind subtle technical clues that were captured on a VHS recording made at Playboy’s uplink at the time of the event – like finding “fingerprints” in the video. After investigators were confident that they identified the brand of transmitter and character generator from the video, they concluded that CBN was the culprit. CBN maintained that the FCC’s case was entirely circumstantial since there were no witnesses and the signal could not be traced to a point of origin. During the investigation, experts on both sides attempted to recreate the incident with CBN’s equipment. According to CBN spokesman Dino McCann they were unsuccessful. Furthermore, CBN asserted that there was not enough power for Haynie to jam Playboy’s signal but during the trial, government witnesses said the CBN station was capable of interfering with satellite transmissions.
After initially being deadlocked, the jury eventually sided with the prosecution and convicted Haynie on two of six counts (Haynie was also accused of interfering with the American Exxxtacy channel on GTE Spacenet 1 on the same date; however, a recording of the event was of such poor quality that it was unusable and Haynie was acquitted of the associated charges). Haynie received three years of probation, a $1,000 fine, and 150 hours of community service. Haynie has always maintained his innocence.
Max Headroom incident
On November 22, 1987, an unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask appeared on the signals of two television stations in Chicago. Independent station WGN-TV, owned by Tribune Broadcasting, was hijacked first. The intrusion occurred during the sports report on its 9:00 p.m. newscast and lasted about 25 seconds. Then came PBS station WTTW, where the man was seen and heard uttering garbled remarks before dropping his pants, partially exposing his buttocks, and was then spanked with a flyswatter before the screen went black. The next interception occurred at about 11:00 p.m. during an episode of the Doctor Who serial, “Horror of Fang Rock”, and lasted almost 90 seconds. None of the individuals responsible for the intrusion have been identified. This incident got the attention of the CBS Evening News the next day and was talked about nationwide. The HBO incident was also mentioned in the same news report.
“Telewizja Solidarność” (TV Solidarity)
In September 1985, four astronomers at Poland’s University of Toruń, Zygmunt Turło, Leszek Zaleski, Piotr Łukaszewski and Jan Hanasz, used a home computer, a synchronizing circuit, and a transmitter to superimpose messages in support of the labor movement Solidarność (Solidarity) over state-run television broadcasts in Toruń, including an episode of 07 zgłoś się. The messages read “Dość podwyżek cen, kłamstw i represji. Solidarność Toruń” (“Enough price increases, lies, and repressions. Solidarity Toruń”) and “Bojkot wyborów naszym obowiązkiem.” (“It is our duty to boycott the election”, referring to the rigged Sejm elections of 1985) with the Solidarity logo. The four men were eventually discovered and were charged with “possession of an unlicensed radio transmitter and publication of materials that could cause public unrest”. At their sentencing, the judge noted their prize winning work in the Polish scientific community and gave each of them probation and a fine of the equivalent of US$100 each (or 3,000,000 old złoty, 300 PLN in today’s currency).
The era of Soviet pirate broadcasting
Broadcast signal intrusion was a common practice in the USSR during the 1970s and 1980s due to the absence of and high demand for any non-government broadcasting. As early as 1966, there was a report of an incident in the city of Kaluga where an 18-year-old had broadcast a hoax announcement that nuclear war had broken out with the United States.
In the mid-1970s so many pirates were operating around the city of Arkhangelsk, especially at night, that local people were urged to telephone reports of violators to a special number.
Hijackers using call signs such as “cucumber”, “Radio Millimeter”, “Green Goat”, “Fortune”, and others, would overpower the signal on relay stations for wired radio networks in order to transmit their own programming, or transmit into wired radio networks during gaps in normal programming. Even though the incidents appear to have been fairly common according to reports from the BBC, most were not publicly acknowledged for policy reasons. Reports in newspapers typically referred to the hijackers as “radio hooligans broadcasting drivel, rudeness, vulgarity, uncensored expressions, and trashy music”. State news organizations also attempted smear campaigns against such pirate broadcasters, claiming that they had interfered with a state frequency used by Aeroflot, “preventing a doctor in an air ambulance from transmitting information about a patient”.
2006 Lebanon War
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel overloaded the satellite transmission of Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV to broadcast anti-Hezbollah propaganda. One spot showed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with crosshairs superimposed on his image followed by three gunshots and a voice saying “Your day is coming” and shots of the Israeli Air Force destroying targets in Lebanon.
“The Winker’s Song” incident
In June and July 2017, Mansfield 103.2 FM, a local radio station in the UK, had its signal intruded at least eight times during outside broadcasts. During these intrusions, “The Winker’s Song (Misprint)” was played. The perpetrator has not been identified.
Television signal intrusions
On August 19, 1987, during KNBC’s 4 p.m. newscast, a gun-wielding intruder identifying himself as “Gary Stollman” got into the NBC Studios in Burbank, California, as a guest of an employee on the set and took David Horowitz hostage live on the air, with the gun pressed on the right side of his back during a news story of “Mail Order Tax”. He then picked up a pieces of papers before drawing the weapon again and forced David to read his statement. Horowitz calmly accepted and read the gunman’s statements on camera; unbeknownst to the gunman, the news feed had been taken off the air replacing by a technical difficulties slide showing a purple background, white text at the top-left mentioning “One Moment Please”, the 1986 NBC logo at the bottom-right, and the KNBC logo at the bottom. The unidentified man revealed at the end of his statement that the gun was an empty (pistol-type) BB gun. David finally then reads “there is no way that I can harm anyone with this empty BB gun”. Gary quickly set the gun down on the newsdesk, at which point anchorman John Beard quickly confiscated it, forcing one of the workers to pull Gary off the set. It led Horowitz to start a successful campaign to help ban “look-alike” toy guns in several states including California and several others.
On an unknown date in 1989, an advert on TVQ-10 in Brisbane, Australia was interrupted with interference from radio station FM104.
On June 20, 2002, Nickelodeon in the United States mistakenly aired a Local Access Alert that was originally sent from the Kadena Air Base in Japan. While being broadcast, the message was written from the 18th wing command post declaring a tropical condition storm watch (Tropical Storm Watch) for the city of Okinawa, Japan. The Local Access Alert was mistakenly sent from a small 7-watt transmitter pointing directly at the satellite Nickelodeon was broadcasting from, and it was broadcast on the USA Nickelodeon instead. After a telephone dial was heard ending the message, staff at the Nickelodeon control center in Orlando, Florida regained their normal signal after throwing the mistake broadcast off the air. NHK, a Japanese television media station was later rebroadcast in Japan.
On January 3, 2007 in Australia, during a broadcast of an episode of the Canadian television series Mayday (known in Australia as Air Crash Investigation) on the Seven Network, an audio signal unexpectedly started playing, clearly saying in an American accent, “Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord.” This same voice message continued to repeat itself over and over during the show for a total of six minutes. A spokesman for Seven later denied that the transmission was a prank or a security breach and claimed that the repeated line was actually part of the original broadcast and said, “Jesus Christ, one of the Nazarenes”, although there is hardly any similarity between the two phrases. Subsequent investigation by independent researchers revealed that the invading transmission was actually from a videotaped news broadcast of a civilian truck being ambushed in Iraq. It remains unknown whether or not this was an intentional act of television piracy or a genuine glitch of some sort.
On June 17, 2007, an intrusion incident occurred on Czech Television’s Sunday morning programme Panorama, which shows panoramic shots of Prague and various locations across the country, especially mountain resorts. One of the cameras, located in Černý Důl in Krkonoše, had been tampered with on-site and its video stream was replaced with the hackers’ own, which contained CGI of a small nuclear explosion in the local landscape, ending in white noise. The broadcast looked authentic enough; the only clue for the viewers was the Web address of the artist group Ztohoven, which had already performed several reality hacking incidents before. Czech Television considered legal action against the group, and tourism workers in the area expressed outrage (since the programme serves to promote tourism in the areas shown).
On July 13, 2007, a grainy photo of a man and woman interrupted Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA-TV’s digital or HD signal. The picture was not transmitted over the analog signal, however. The incident was deemed a genuine signal intrusion by various websites but has since been confirmed to be the result of an older HDTV encoder malfunctioning in the early morning hours and going undetected. Station management stated that the image was from an advertisement for The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Sometime around 2009, Cartoon Network, which is owned by Turner Broadcasting System, had their signal switched with that of Turner Classic Movies, replacing Tom and Jerry with the 1962 film, Ivan’s Childhood.
On February 11, 2013, Great Falls, Montana CBS affiliate KRTV had their Emergency Alert System hijacked with an audible message warning viewers that “dead bodies are rising from their graves”. Later the same night in Marquette, Michigan and the early morning hours in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the same type of hijacking and reference to a “zombie invasion” was made over the EAS systems of CBS affiliate WKBT-DT, ABC affiliate WBUP and PBS member station WNMU during primetime programming. Shortly afterwards, PBS affiliate KENW of Portales, New Mexico was struck with a similar hacking incident, repeating similar information regarding zombies; however, this led to the arrest of the hacker of the four television stations.
The Emergency Alert System equipment on Charter Communications in 2014 got their systems hacked by speed and pitch controls. From Ohio to New Hampshire, the Emergency Alert System headers, attention signal, the message audio and EOM tones was used at a slower speed and a deeper pitched. People called it many evil characters from movies after the first video released on July 27th, 2014 involving a Tornado Warning for Lake And Cuyahoga counties in the northeastern part of Ohio outside of Cleveland. Four years later during the 2018 National Periodic Test on two television stations in Houston, Texas, (KHOU, a CBS affiliate and KPRC-TV, an NBC affiliate) were also hit by the deep voice. However the tones that are used in the EAS equipment were normal at the time. The deep voice was hit by a radio station that accidentally got in technical difficulties at the time.
KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, California made a false alarm during the 2nd National Periodic Test of the Emergency Alert System in September 28, 2016 after mistakenly airing parts of KFBK’s talk show announcing that the world will end in a nuclear holocaust and a climate change.
In early 2017, CW’s KCWE Channel 29 in Kansas City, Missouri literally ended up showing CBS programming from KCTV for a total of 7 minutes until a worker noticed in the master control about the error. A year-and-a-half later before the afternoon hour, KCTV made mistakes during a technical glitch, forcing the CBS program to fade-in and fade-out a couple of times. Around 11:50 AM, virtual monitors was later displayed, showing KCTV’s broadcast from cable companies such as DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, and its sub-channel 5.2 (COMET).
On July 9, 2018, KXAS-TV, an NBC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas replaced 22 minutes of their morning newscast with a mix of national and local commercials with a rotation and repetition. That incident was a mistake to the station.
Cable network feed intrusions
In 1999, Mediacom near the Boston, Massachusetts area, a video blackout occurred for 45 minutes after an Emergency Alert System Test fail.
On June 23, 2004; Waukesha, Wisconsin Time Warner Cable’s Emergency Alert System broadcast of a Tornado Warning was interrupted by a Wisconsin Public Radio station WHAD in Delafield, Wisconsin. The same incident occurred later with WIIL-FM in Union Grove, WI interrupting an Emergency Alert System broadcast with WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee during the same outbreak.
On May 1, 2007, a Comcast headend replaced the Disney Channel’s program Handy Manny with hard-core pornography for viewers in Lincroft, New Jersey. Comcast stated it was conducting an investigation into the event’s cause but did not announce findings to the public.
On March 26, 2008, A broadcast of an aircheck of WHUD-FM in Peekskill, New York broke out after a Required Monthly Test of the Hudson Valley area Emergency Alert System in an unknown Cable System near Peekskill, which frequently used the Idea/Onics CG-1000 System at the time interrupting normal programming.
In 2008, Comcast in an unknown region in Alabama received a Local Access Alert for a Tornado Warning with text in a blue screen attentional Comcast users in the area to notify the Warning. The screen unfortunately was attached on the primary entry point channel for 2 weeks until normal programming resumes, 2 weeks after the severe weather outbreak.
On February 1, 2009, another Comcast headend, in Tucson, Arizona, replaced NBC affiliate KVOA’s signal with graphic footage from the pornographic video Wild Cherries 5 in portions of Arizona for 28 seconds, interrupting Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter. Comcast claimed “Our initial investigation suggests this was an isolated malicious act. We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine who was behind this.” KVOA also announced that it will be investigating the incident. On February 4, 2011, former Cox Cable employee Frank Tanori Gonzalez was arrested by the FBI and local police in relation to the case.
On April 20, 2012, three minutes of a gay pornographic film was broadcast during a morning news show on CHCH-DT in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada for Shaw cable viewers. The night before, a cable was cut; while it was being fixed on the morning of the incident, the adult programming was spliced into CHCH’s feed.
From August 26, 2016 until September 21, 2016 (a week before the National Periodic Test), Roku and a couple other devices in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin metropolitan area activated 30 Required Weekly Tests of the Emergency Alert System in various time periods in the early morning hours for many states that does not contain Milwaukee and Wisconsin itself. All of the receivers does not contain the Milwaukee area. On August 26, 2016, 2 Required Weekly Tests were received in cable system in Milwaukee’s Roku cable for the New York City area and New Jersey. On September 9, 2016, 3 Required Weekly Tests for the same states. 3 days later, more states were added, including all of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. These areas include Columbus. The Evansville and Indianapolis areas including the state of Indiana were added 2 days later on September 14. A week later on September 21, more than 20 Required Weekly Tests were sent in many added states between 12:21 AM until 2:56 AM. All of the states were also included, including the states of Ohio (including the cities of Columbus from receivers 1 and 3, and Cincinnati), Kentucky (a couple of them were sent from the cities of Springfield, Bowling Green, Harrodsburg, Georgetown, and Mount Sterling while the rest is unknown in Kentucky), New York (a couple were sent from the city of Rome; and a few from the New York City area), Virginia (Newport News area), North Carolina (sent from Elizabeth City), Michigan (Detroit Area), and Texas (sent from the City of Grapevine).
Satellite feed intrusions
On September 7, 2012, the Disney Channel once again was interrupted on the Dish Network, replacing 6 minutes of Lilo & Stitch with a portion of a hardcore pornographic movie. The incident was reported to Dish Network.
On March 11, 2016, private satellite dish owners in Israel watching HaAh HaGadol (an Israel version of Big Brother) on Channel 2 had their viewing of adventures of house-bound reality stars interrupted with incitement from Hamas. The disruption lasted a little over three and a half minutes.
As of Fall 2019, WFAA, an ABC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, contains multiple problems with a couple of weekend schedules for a couple of months. They are notified that since August of 2019, WFAA ran reruns of its morning talk, entertainment, and lifestyle program “Good Morning Texas” around the 4:00-5:00 PM hours before ABC World News Tonight replacing a few rerun episodes of “Matter of Fact.” Originally, “Good Morning Texas” is suppose to run every weekday at 9:00 AM-10:00 AM, and it does not run on weekends.
- Thin Air(1988)
- UHF (1989)
- RoboCop 3(1993)
- The Arrival(1996)
- Arrival II(1998)
- Live Free or Die Hard(2007)
- Man of Steel(2013)
- Iron Man 3(2013)
- Your Name(2016)
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- ^ Jump up to:ab United States of America v. Thomas M. Haynie, 940 F.2d 653 (United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit Aug 14, 1991).
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- ^Gross, Judah Ari (March 12, 2016). “Hamas hacks into Israeli TV and threatens: ‘Terror will never end'”. The Times of Israel.