Friday, December 11, 2009

Captain Midnight Strikes!

Captain Midnight: was he Superhero or Supervillain?
Today I write about Captain Midnight. Not the despite the fact that he was not a radio man in the strictest sense of the word. He did transmit his messages, but he did not broadcast them in the AM or FM radio bands. These events all take place on the TV and for that I apologize but these events must be told and retold so that his saga is forever known to all.

First of all, I refer to John R. MacDougal of Ocala, Florida, not the comic book character. Second of all, we only know about MacDougal because he was caught. There have been other Broadcast Signal Intruders who were not. Their stories are unknown and untold. So let us begin at the beginning.

The 25-year old Mr. MacDougal had watched his satellite dish business dry up as pay-per view channels like HBO switched to encoded satellite transmissions. He had a small grudge against HBO you might say. To pay the bills he got a night job at Central Florida Teleport, a company that uplinks services to satellites. He worked alone after 6 PM. Like clockwork, when the movie ended at 12:30 John flipped on the color bars and turned the 30-foot dish into it's resting position. In it's resting position, by sheer chance, that dish pointed at the Galaxy 1 satellite. Transponder 23 on that satellite carries the eastern feed of HBO. Suddenly he was seized by an idea. MacDougal was an engineer. He knew how to overpower the HBO signal. On April 27th 1986, at 12:32am Captain Midnight struck. The FCC considered him a threat to national security. MacDougal punched the transmit button and began typing:

$12.95/MONTH ?

It was an act of Broadcast Signal Intrusion. It's illegal, but personally I find it both harmless and amusing in small doses. But HBO had a conniption. On April 28, HBO chairman Michael J. Fuchs wrote to the FCC saying that the company had received calls threatening to move Galaxy 1 into a new orbit. He urged the FCC to capture Captain Midnight. The thought he was a terrorist. Monty Python couldn't make this up.

He was caught, had to pay a $5,000 fine and received a year’s probation. He got off easy because they really, really wanted to know how he did it. At one point he announced that he was going to write a book about the incident. I don't think he ever did. But MacDougal Electronics survived. They install Dish Network dishes these days.