Dr. Who, the galaxy-roaming "Time Lord" of Channel 11-WTTW's series, came up against some real science a week ago Sunday night and lost. Somebody with a rare knack for electronics and a strange sense of humor took over WTTW's signal. For 88 seconds-- it must have seemed much longer --fans of Dr. Who watched Max Headroom, the high-tech TV caricature, gabbling unintelligibly and being spanked on his bare behind with a fly swatter.
Earlier the same joker had interrupted WGN-Channel 9's highlights of the Bears game with the ghost of Max Headroom. Both stations and the Federal Communications Commission are doing all they can to find this invader of the airwaves and correct him or her, not with a fly swatter.
The meeting of Dr. Who and the electronic pirate is a science-fiction fantasy in itself. To his doting fans, Dr. Who seems like a real person; to just about everybody, the video invader seems fictional-- a weirdo who uses amazing technological skill to perpetrate a silly stunt involving a parody of a parody, and now has technicians busily thinking up new ways to prevent such stunts. Scientific progress does seem to be more fun than it used to be.
In a November 23, 1987 post to the Risks-Forum, a writer commented:
A couple of phone calls (to the local cable TV company, and to WTTW) led to a little more information; it is likely that the pirate transmission was inserted somewhere in the Chicago area, as it was distributed over WGN's satellite link and WTTW's (land-based) microwave links. If my information is correct, WGN has the capability of switching to a second frequency for the uplink portion of its broadcast chain, but it's not clear whether they actually did so during or after the incident. WTTW does not have this capability, and the person I talked to on the phone sounded (understandably) a little worried that this might happen again.
I don't know if they ever did catch the guy. According to the site I lifted the Tribunearticle from, "'Max,' it turned out, was a hacker, a local college kid who somehow managed to take over the channel and have some fun." But this is the only time I have ever heard this.
Last Update: August 18, 2001