9 Times Pranksters, Vigilantes, and Weirdos Hijacked TV Broadcasts

9 Times Pranksters, Vigilantes, and Weirdos Hijacked TV Broadcasts
Photo: Stan Meagher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Picture this: you’re sitting at home, exhausted after a long day at work. You turn on your favourite show — a mid-tier 90’s sitcom — hoping that the din of laugh tracks and witty banter helps lull you into some kind of relaxation, and it does! At least at first, before it gets suddenly interrupted by an X-rated film. Or aliens. Or just some guy complaining about cable prices.

Before they were the things of Reddit creepypastas and mediocre thrillers, broadcast interruptions like these were an uncommon and jarring part of the nascent Television media landscape. We’ve collected a few of our favourite cases, from unexplained alien broadcasts interrupting the evening news to vigilante Christians hijacking people’s porn.

1977: Aliens Hijack the Evening News

Photo: Ronald Patrick, Getty ImagesPhoto: Ronald Patrick, Getty Images

The Southern Television broadcast interruption that hit south England in November, 1977 sounds like something genuinely out of science fiction. No, really, just listen to it; that night’s news drawl gets suddenly interrupted and warped, before the voice of the newscaster mutes and gets replaced by a soothing drone claiming to represent “Ashtar Galactic Command,” sending a message down to humanity to abandon its weapons. The roughly six minute drone went on to explain that our planet was in a “New Age of Aquarius,” that could only be realised if “rulers are made aware of the evil forces that can overshadow their judgments.”

“May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the Cosmos,” the message concluded, before returning Englanders back to their usual news. The hijacker still hasn’t been found.

1987: God Hijacks the Playboy Channel

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid, Getty ImagesPhoto: Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

In a rare case of Christian-based hacking, folks watching a title called American Ecstasy on the Playboy Satellite Network in 1987 were suddenly bombarded by several minutes of religious messaging. In the midst of all the aforementioned “ecstasy,” the screen went blank, replaced for several minutes with text saying “Thus sayeth the Lord thy God. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Three years of FCC investigations later, the agency eventually pinned the event on a Virginia engineer working with the Christian Broadcasting Network at the time.

1987: Max Headroom Hijacks Doctor Who

Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (YouTube)Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (YouTube)

There’s still a fervent online community trying to track down the mystery man behind this legendary broadcast interruption that hit Chicago households back in 1987 during Doctor Who. And honestly, if you watch the broadcast in question, you can see why people are so intrigued by this case; it features a figure dressed like 80’s counter-culture icon Max Headroom doing… all sorts of stuff, from ranting about “liberals,” to playing with a pair of gloves, to getting his bare arse smacked by a woman in a French maid uniform.

2002: Falun Gong Hijacks Chinese TV

Photo: Dale De La Rey, Getty ImagesPhoto: Dale De La Rey, Getty Images

The Falun Gong religion might be fully outlawed in mainland China, but that didn’t stop its followers from getting their message to the people via the airwaves. Twice in one month in 2002, followers hacked into broadcasts of the country’s leading government-run network, China Central Television, or CCTV, to tout the benefits of joining the group across 10 local channels. News outlets wrote at the time that these broadcasts “lasted from seconds to minutes,” prompting the country to launch a full-scale investigation into the issue.

2007: Jesus Hijacks Channel 7

Photo: David Silverman, Getty ImagesPhoto: David Silverman, Getty Images

This one’s pretty obscure — and hasn’t yet been explained, at least publicly. For about six minutes during an airing of the documentary Mayday: Head-on Collision on Australia’s Channel 7, the audio was replaced by an eerie loop of an unseen American saying “Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord. Fuck.” Footage of the event is hard to find, but thankfully, someone caught the bizarre event and uploaded it to YouTube at the time.

The unsatisfying conclusion to the story is that the network involved just brushed things off. “It was a technical glitch due to an audio problem with the tape,” a spokesperson told one local outlet after hundreds of concerned Australians dialed in asking what the hell they’d just watched. “The line actually is ‘Jesus Christ one of the Navarines’ and this is from the documentary.” Uh huh. Sure thing, guys.

2007: Nuclear Pranksters Hijack The Weather Report

Photo: Arlan Naeg, Getty ImagesPhoto: Arlan Naeg, Getty Images

In the summer of 2007, an average weather forecast by a local Czech TV station erupted into calamity when a group of local artists spliced footage of an atomic bomb over that day’s weather report. The brief glimpse into an imaginary armageddon, the group later claimed, was part of a project showing how media coverage manipulated people’s perception of reality.

It turns out local authorities weren’t a fan. The six artists involved were jailed for three years for the disruption.

2009: Wild Cherries Porno Hijacks the Super Bowl

Photo: Chris McGrath, Getty ImagesPhoto: Chris McGrath, Getty Images

OK, these aren’t actual cherries. But during the 2009 Super Bowl, countless Comcast subscribers based out of Arizona were treated to half a minute of Wild Cherries 5, an x-rated porn flick that suddenly interrupted their game. Comcast was embarrassed enough by the debacle that it gave the 80,000 affected Tuscon viewers a measly $US10 ($14) off their upcoming cable bill, which in total, ended up costing the company $US800,000 ($1,110,560). Eventually, local authorities traced the hack to a former Comcast employee, who got hit with three years worth of probation and a $US1,000 ($1,388) fine for the deed.

2013: Zombies Hijack The Steve Wilkos Show

Photo: Christopher Furlong, Getty ImagesPhoto: Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Folks in a Montana suburb were watching an episode of the popular Steve Wilkos Show when suddenly an alarming emergency scrawl appeared at the bottom of their screens: the dead had risen out of their graves and were now roaming the streets “attacking the living.” The prompt advised that people shouldn’t try to apprehend these “dangerous” undead individuals.

As it turns out, the towns’ emergency broadcasting system had been hacked by an unnamed source. It wasn’t the only one, either — pretty soon, multiple emergency broadcasters in Michigan were reporting a similar situation, with their own zombie warnings cropping up during afternoon broadcasts of Barney, of all things. The two stations reported at the time that the attacker had been traced to an “overseas source.” No word on whether that source was a zombie themselves.

2022: Anonymous Hijacks Russian TV

Photo: Philippe Lopez, Getty ImagesPhoto: Philippe Lopez, Getty Images

This list wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from the world’s best-known hacking group. In February, Anonymous took credit when several Russian-owned streaming services and news channels suddenly began broadcasting brutal war footage from Ukraine, before cutting to a poem written by Ukrainian singer Monatik. The group later wrote on Twitter that “all” of Russias’ state-owned channels had been hacked.