Monday, May 22, 2006

The Radio Hijacked!

Generally I avoid news. News is not arcane or trivial. You can decide later that it was trivial but at the time it was... news. but this was a little out of the ordinary.

WBAB and WBLI are both owned by Cox. The assumption here is that this was deliberate, and targeted vindictively at Cox Radio.

First the physics. Radio studios are rarely adjacent to their transmitter towers. It certains can bhappen, but usually not. There are several ways to take your studio audio and send it to the tower. One of these is a microwave relay. It's like a point to point wireless connection. a transmitter sends a signal via mircowave, usually above 50 Ghz and it is received at that "transmitter shack" which then converts the signal for broadcast.

It was just last week, on May 17 durring the morning show at WBAB was running as usual. then suddenly somone punched in with a stronger microwave signal and hijacked the 102.3 signal. While the transmitter may have been acquired legally, the punch in was certaiy illegal. Thsi "pirate" the played a racist country song called "Nigger Hating Me" that advocated the killing of black people. The show's hosts, John Parise and Roger Luce, along with the station's technicians, were unable to block the pirate transmission at the time. The same thing happened at WBLI two weeks earlier.

WBAB has responded by offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the hijacker. They have also wisely asked the FCC to investigate. Their PD Johyn Olsen said: "This was not a child's prank. This was a federal offense... Clearly someone has a bone to pick with WBAB." In Newsday John Olsen their GM freely admitted the technical weakness that all of these staitons had in this regard "You have to be technologically pretty proficient in order to know how to do it... The equipment is probably readily available and if you know how to put the equipment together, then it's something that's possible." Essentially the pirate got close to the tranmission tower and fired up with enough juice to overpower the WBAB relay. The STL frequencies are of public record, but the technical know how is more rare.

Interestingly enough it was only a coupel weeks ago that WBAB faced criticism for airing a fake commercial for "Wetback Streakhouse" that offended the Latino community. It was run as a part of The Roger and JP Show. So the possibility remains that this is a prank on the part of the staiton. Article Here

But still, these events are rare. Only one comes to mind right now, and it was way back in 1987. It was WTTW-TV. Durring the 90 second "inturruption" the pirate wore a Max Headroom mask to hide his identity, and made a fool of himself. The FCC believed that the pirate had overpowered a microwave feed into the array atop the Sears Tower.