This Thursday, any Southern Californians watching TV got a frightening “Emergency Alert” message. Shortly after 11 a.m., an emergency alert aired over Cox Cable and Spectrum Cable.
The garbled audio warned of the end times, opening with, “In the last days, extremely violent times will come…” Considering that, according to David Meade, a self-published Christian author, the world may end on Saturday, the timing was particularly good. (Meade has since backtracked on his claims.)
However, this time, there was nothing sinister going on. The audio actually came from an episode of Insight For Living, a radio show hosted by evangelical radio pastor Chuck Swindoll. The opening lines about “violent times” come from the Bible — Timothy 3:1 to be precise.
Cox blamed the error on a radio station that hadn’t turned off. Spectrum claims they were fed the wrong audio file. Either way, the two cable giants are investigating to see if it was an accident or someone playing a prank.
The Max Headroom Incident (1987)
A prank wouldn’t be out of the question. There have been a number of incidents where people overrode (or “jammed”) a broadcast signal to send their own message.
One of the most famous incidents happened in Chicago on Nov. 22, 1987. An unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask appeared briefly on WGN-TV. They had more success jamming the WTTW-TV signal, interrupting an episode of Doctor Who.
The message was prerecorded and the audio was garbled. Though it’s hard to understand, it appears the hacker was making fun of WGN-TV personality Chuck Swirsky. We don’t know for sure — they never found the culprit.
Captain Midnight (1986)
Another famous hack happened the year before. In 1986, Captain Midnight, a.k.a. John MacDougall, jammed HBO’s satellite signal. His motive was more clear, however — he was protesting against the high cost of HBO service for satellite dish owners.
MacDougall’s message interrupted a showing of The Falcon and the Snowman, and lasted for four and a half minutes. Unlike Max Headroom, however, MacDougall was caught. He received a $5,000 fine and a year’s probation.
The Southern Television Broadcast Interruption (1977)
One of the earliest examples of TV jamming happened in the United Kingdom in 1977. A voice calling himself “Vrillion of the Ashtar Galactic Command” took over the audio during a newscast. Though obviously a hoax, like Max Headroom, the jammer was never caught.
The CNN “End of the World” Tape (1980s, confirmed real in 2015)
And, finally — if we’re still around when the world does end, a few years back, a CNN Intern shared the “end of the world” tape. The tape was a pre-recorded message to be played during the apocalypse shortly before CNN signed off for good, and it was totally real.
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