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Friday Five: Broadcast Signal Intrusions

Friday Five

I love anything a bit creepy and mysterious, and anything to do with retro TV and radio. So it's a no brainer I'd be fascinated by broadcast signal intrusions. Ever since broadcast began there have been people attempting to disrupt, hijack or jam the signals. Reasons range from state censorship of foreign shortwave radio broadcasts right through to a random guy being angry about HBO's monthly subscription fees.

Sometimes signal intrusions are accidental, like the time in 2012 when a cut cable was being repaired and three minutes of a gay porno film was shown instead of Canada's CHCH-DT's morning news show. Sometimes they're all but a military operation, like the time in 2015 when TV5Monde was brought to its knees by a sustained cyber attack lasting over three hours. More typically they're the result of lone individuals or small groups of pranksters.

Here are five of my favourites...

#5. Zombie Apocalypse

On February 11th 2013 KRTV in Montana had their emergency alert system hacked during The Steve Wilkos Show to tell viewers:

'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 onscreen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.' 

The same message was later sent out over the EAS of WBUP (c. 20:30 during The Bachelor) and WNMU (c. 16:00 during Barney and Friends) in Michigan, and KENW in New Mexico. Meanwhile DJs joking about the event on rock radio station Z93 inadvertently triggered the linked emergency alert system of Wisconsin's WKBT-DT into repeating the zombie warning during their morning news broadcast.

All broadcasters in the USA have to sign up to the national emergency alert system, and the hack was enabled by stations which hadn't changed the default password on equipment they bought from Monroe Electronics - who had helpfully published the defaults in their publicly accessible online manual. News reports claimed that authorities had traced the source of the hack to outside the USA, but I failed to find any follow up on what action (if any) was taken against them. 

#4. Panorama

Not the UK current affairs programme, but the Czech Television Sunday morning tourism show. The regular schedule of pretty panoramic views of the Czech countryside was replaced on 17th June 2007 with shocking scenes appearing to show a nuclear explosion in the KrkonoŇ°e mountain range. It turned out to be a stunt by guerilla artist collective Ztohoven, but for those watching live it must have been a horrifying moment!

Six Ztohoven members ended up in court over the incident, facing prison sentences of up to three years a piece, but the charges were dismissed by a judge in March 2008.

#3. Help Us, Lord

Another intrusion from 2007, this time from Australia's Seven Network during a January 3rd airing of Canadian import 'Mayday: Head-on Collision'. The audio was suddenly replaced with a creepy loop of an American voice saying:

Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord. Fuck.

This went on for around six minutes before the proper audio signal was restored. Spokespeople for Channel 7 told newspapers that "It was a technical glitch due to an audio problem with the tape. The line actually is 'Jesus Christ one of the Navarines' and this is from the documentary [Mayday]."

As explanations go, it was more than a little lame. Especially when the audio was traced to a 2006 Channel 7 news broadcast showing footage of US supply truck driver Preston Wheeler pleading for his life while being fired on by insurgents in Iraq. Who spliced it into Mayday - and why - remains a total mystery.

Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion

#2. Max Headroom

Max Headroom was a character dreamed up to present music videos on Channel 4 back in 1985. Claimed to be a CGI creation, computer graphics of the time were nowhere near capable and Max was actually actor Matt Frewer under four hours worth of prosthetics and make-up. It didn't stop him going the 80s equivalent of viral and by 1987 he had his own US TV show in addition to being the face of New Coke. 

He was a big enough deal to spawn his own costume masks, one of which showed up in the most unexpected place - interrupting a WGN-TV sports report on November 22nd 1987. The screen went black for 15 seconds before showing someone in a Max Headroom mask stood before a rotating corrugated metal panel, accompanied by a buzzing sound. After 28 seconds WGN engineers succeeded in switching the broadcast frequency, patching viewers back into the studio where sports anchor Dan Roan told them: "Well, if you're wondering what's happened, so am I!"

A couple of hours later, during a broadcast of the Dr Who episode Horror of Fang Rock, Max Headroom's creepier twin struck again. With no engineers on duty at the relevant transmitting station, this time the signal hijack lasted 90 seconds until cutting out of its own accord. Although it was now WTTW, a PBS affiliate, who fell prey to the hoaxers it was still WGN they had in the firing line. Sportscaster Chuck Swirsky was singled out in their rambling diatribe which also proclaimed the hijack to be a masterpiece for the nerds at WGN. 

Over 30 years on and their identity remains a mystery, but research into the subject suggests it was almost certainly an inside job, presumably by someone with an axe to grind against WGN-TV. The equipment needed to overpower the Sears Tower transmitter simply wouldn't have been available to an amateur, no matter how dedicated. 

Southern Television

#1. United Kingdom

My favourite broadcast intrusion is also the earliest on this list, dating back to November 26th, 1977. Andrew Gardner was reading the early evening news on ITV franchise Southern Television when the picture went wobbly. At 17:10 the audio feed was then replaced with the voice of 'Vrillon', a self-proclaimed representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command. 

Although the visuals carried on as normal, the news bulletin giving way to a Looney Tunes cartoon, the voice of Vrillon continued to air for around six minutes. Wikipedia has a full transcript and issue #24 of Fortean Times printed a summary transcript that winter:

'This is the voice of Asteron. I am an authorised representative of the Intergalactic Mission, and I have a message for the planet Earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius and there are many corrections which have to be made by Earth people. All your weapons of evil must be destroyed. You have only a short time to learn to live together in peace. You must live in peace... or leave the galaxy.'

There are no official recordings of the event, though contemporary reports suggest there was at least one audio tape circulating in 1977. E.g. John Whitmore told Bob Holness in a December '77 interview, "I'd first like to refer to the recording itself of the complete message, one thing that struck me was that there was in fact nothing threatening whatsoever on the tape, and I was aware that most of the newspaper reports said it was threatening and frightening and so on, and so forth, and I just want to point out that that's sort-of a projection of the fears onto the material itself rather than the reality."

CITV show It's a Mystery recreated the event in 1999:

Southern was one of the few UK broadcasters vulnerable to such an intrusion, relying on a receiver at their Hannington transmitter rather than a direct landline. This meant that an intrusive signal wouldn't need to be particularly powerful to supersede that coming from the Rowridge transmitter on the Isle of Wight. Even so, in 1977 this would have taken a lot of specialist knowledge and equipment to accomplish - making it all the more remarkable that those behind the incident have never been identified.

Pulsar magazine (#5, 1978) suggested the culprits were a group who had prior experience: "On April 1st 1976 they broadcast banned records over the John Peel Radio 1 programme. On August 14th 1977 they took over radios 2 and 3 for three hours and transmitted a programme of music, made to appear as if it had come from an orbiting radio station called KSAT." (Google failed to confirm either event - anybody know more?)

1977, of course, was also the year of a major UFO 'flap' in the UK. I wrote a whole post on the Broad Haven Mystery a while ago, and there was a general growing interest in the subject with the imminent UK release of both Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (December '77 and March '78, respectively). Or, just maybe, Vrillon was the real deal...

This vid is posted multiple times on YouTube claiming to be original footage, though I couldn't find any confirmation:

ETA - EUFOSG (Essex UFO Study Group) Journal published a detailed overview of the event in their winter 1978 journal:

ETA - Dan J. Goring on the event from Margaret Fry's 'Who Are They?':

"On Saturday the 25th November, 1977 a remarkable ‘space message’ was superimposed over Southern Television News. The next day the News of the World contained a fair account of this very rare event- ‘Thousands of TV viewers were stunned last night by a broadcast, claiming to be from another planet. The mysterious transmission came as Ivor Mills was reading the national news on Southern Television. It lasted about four minutes.

Mills voice suddenly faded, and another man was heard warning that Beings from outer Space would take over unless the world pursued peaceful policies. The voice added “This is Gillon representative of Asta Gallactic Command speaking to you”. Worried viewers jammed the telephone lines to Southern studios. ITN promptly flashed an apology on the screen saying the mysterious interruption was being investigated. A Southern Spokesman said later: “We’ve been flooded with calls. Our Engineers are trying to discover exactly what happened. We’re assuming it was rather a sick hoax. We can’t imagine how it was done, but it appears that someone must have managed to transmit a signal over ours. The equipment used would need to be fairly sophisticated and expensive”.

LBC Radio had a ‘phone-in’ programme about the incident and David Basset who answered the calls said “It was obviously a hoax, as real alien spacemen don’t exist!”. Some people were convinced, though, that it was genuine, and the scene was one of disbelief and or bewilderment. LBC were very fortunate in securing a full tape recording of the Space message — 5½ minutes - dropped into them by an anonymous person. This recording was played on a few occasions, but it certainly didn’t sound like a TV-taped copy, but an original copy.

A few people who were fortunate to have tape recorders at hand when the message came over the TV recorded various parts of it and played these over the radio, but they were poor reproductions for the TV message faded at times and there were background sounds from their rooms interfering. The LBC copy was perfect, however, and included not only the voice of the Spaceman, but the peculiar beginning and ending to the message as well. The initial sounds were an evenly spaced series of drumbeat-like noises, but with a curious metallic and reverberating tailing off to each beat.

The ending lasted ½ minute or more, and sounded reminiscent of a West Indian steel band drumbeat! These latter beats were evenly spaced at first, but they gradually speeded up and finally merged into one long continuous tone. Very strange you will agree! If we assume the message is genuine, then it seems possible that these strange sounds have a psychological purpose to them. A number of abduction cases in the past have had a similar beginning and ending, such sounds possibly having a ‘conditioning’ effect upon the witnesses.

Anyway, I taped the initial part of the message itself and this was played back to our Group and the Kent Group who were invited over at Barking on the 27th January, 1978.

The full Space Message was as follows -

This is the voice of Gi-lon (or Kilon) the representative of Asia Galactic Command speaking to you. For many years now you have seen us as lights in the skies. We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over this, your planet Earth. We come to warn you of the destiny of your race and your worlds so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid the disasters which threaten your worlds, and the Beings on the worlds around you. This is in order that you may share in the great awakening, as the planet passes into the New Age of Aquarius. The New Age can be a time of great peace and evolution for your race, but only if your rulers are made aware of the evil forces that can overshadow their judgments.

Be still now and listen, for your chance may not come again. For many years your scientists, governments and generals have not headed our warnings; they have continued to experiment with the evil forces of what you call nuclear energy. Atomic bombs can destroy the earth, and the Beings of your sister worlds, in a moment. The wastes from atomic power stations will poison your planet for many thousands of your years to come. We, who have followed the path of evolution for far longer than you, have long since realised this that atomic energy is always directed against life. It has no peaceful application. Its use, and research into its use, must be ceased at once, or you risk destruction. All weapons of evil must be removed.

The time of conflict is now past and the race of which you are a part may proceed to the highest planes of evolution if you show yourselves worthy to do this. You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace and goodwill. Small groups all over the planet are learning this, and exist to pass on the light of the dawning New Age to you all. You are free to accept or reject their teachings, but only those who learn to live in peace will pass to the higher realms of spiritual evolution.

Hear now the voice of Gi-lon, the representative of the Asta Galactic Command speaking to you. Be aware also that there are many false prophets and guides operating on your world. They will suck your energy from you - the energy you call money and will put it to evil ends giving you worthless dross in return. Your inner divine self protect you from this. You must learn to be sensitive to the voice within, that can tell you what is truth, and what is confusion, chaos and untruth. Learn to listen to the voice of truth which is within you, and you will lead yourselves on to the path of evolution.

This is the message to you our dear friends. We have watched you growing for many years as you too have watched our lights in the skies. You know now that we are here, and that there are more Beings on and around your earth than your scientists admit. We are deeply concerned about you and your path towards the light, and will do all we can to help you. Have no fears, seek only to know yourselves and live in harmony with the ways of your planet earth.  We of the Asta Galactic Command thank you for your attention. We are now leaving the planes of your existence.  May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the Cosmos.

(Extracts from Earthlink, the sadly now defunct Essex UFO magazine by kind permission of Dan Goring the former Editor.)

Needless to say the press had a field day.  The Sunday Express felt that a transmitter on some kind of link to land mines was used to get access to Rowridge and Hannington. The Sun said the Post Office had tracked down the hoax to Hannington, Hants. The Daily Mail said if the Post Office tracked down Gi-lon they would have him before Newbury magistrates.  The Post Office investigators were working closely with technicians from Home Office Communications Branch. The IBA’s monitoring unit, which keeps a constant check on the ultra high frequency channels used by commercial TV stations did not pick up a hoax.

The Sunday Times decided ‘it was students in a van using £80 worth of equipment run off a car battery’.  Radio Jackie, a pirate radio station operating from Sussex, claimed they broadcast the message. There were endless permutations advanced for about a week, nobody was ever caught by the police, and nobody was ever taken to Court. It is significant that it was all allowed to die down pretty quickly by the authorities and newspapers alike.

It seems to the author of this book that the messages are too similar to ones given to Mediums and contactees.  Would someone from some distant galaxy couch familiar sentences such as these? It is difficult to believe. I gathered that it would be very costly to break into a TV transmission with sophisticated expensive machinery. This point makes one poise to think, for who would have the money to do this, certainly not students, or those pockets of people who conform to New Age thinking. Who else would want to get such a message across at whatever cost? Despite my doubts, the clinching factor was that Maureen Hall and myself heard the same metallic voice over my telephone.

Dan Goring told me of a Lady he got to know quite well, the late Mrs. Jean Pilliager of Ilford, Essex. On the 27th May 1977 she was sitting in her bedroom with her dog at noon 12.30 p.m. watching TV when the picture went with a blind flash. When she turned the knobs ‘foreign voices could be heard laughing, singing and music’.   There was the sound of a plane, so she dashed outside; high above this plane, she could see two long cigar shaped UFOs the colour of unpolished silver.

On 12th December 1977 Mrs. Pilliager heard a recording of the Asta Gallactic Command message. Four to five hours later, just past 4 p.m. the phone rang.  She was worried at the time as her daughter was having an operation. On picking up the receiver she heard the same noises on the line that are present at the beginning and end of the Space message tape. This quite terrified her.

In 1978 Mrs Pilliager received two crank letters on IBA officially headed notepaper. Dan saw these, and wondered where they had got her address, but she laughed it off. Again she received a phone call in late 1979 from someone who said he was from Capital Radio, London; the same weird noises were at the end of the phone call. He had said he would like to talk to her about her UFO experiences. Her phone was ex-directory. On the 8th April 1983 Joan Pilliager died at her daughter’s wedding reception. She had a blood clot just outside her heart."

Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments! :)

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