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30 Years Later: Revisiting the Pirate Max Headroom Incident

The date was November 22, 1987. WGN-TV was in the midst of broadcasting the Nine O’Clock News. Unexpectedly, the sports segment was interrupted by a pirate signal and a masked figure briefly appeared on television screens around the city. The interruption was over in less than 20 seconds. Sportscaster Dan Roan echoed the thoughts of viewers when he said: “well, if you’re wondering what’s happened, so am I.”

The figure appearing on the screen would have been familiar to consumers of the 80s. It was a rubberized version of the character Max Headroom. The computerized talk show host was originally developed for a British cyberpunk TV movie called Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future. He caught on in the United States as the spokesman for New Coke and as the star of a short-lived sci-fi show simply called Max Headroom (he was also the host a Cinemax talk show after the sci-fi show was canceled).

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