During the early morning hours of April 27, 1986, a Florida man by the name of John R. MacDougall hacked into Home Box Office’s satellite signal. MacDougall owned a satellite dish company, and was upset that HBO and other cable networks had begun scrambling their signals so their programming couldn’t be seen by dish owners any longer. MacDougall, desperate because his business had suffered, decided to send a message. As HBO subscribers were watching an airing of The Falcon and the Snowman, the following appeared on their screens for more than four minutes:
MacDougall came up with the alias “Captain Midnight” not long after viewing the 1979 teen film, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight.
Newspaper clipping, July 27, 1986.
The movie chronicles the adventures of a southern California high school student, Ziggy, who’s the voice of a pirate radio station. Captain Midnight has elements of the “teen sex comedy” film type, though it’s relatively tame compared to the onslaught of raunchy R-rated movies that came to define the genre in the 1980s. Anyone who came of age during the decade and remembers sneaking into theater showings of flicks like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), The Last American Virgin (1982), and Porky’s (1981), or staying up late to watch them on cable—all without mom and dad knowing—is going to love the awesome new book, Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!. Author Mike “McBeardo” McPadden has penned reviews for over 350 films, from the “hard R’s” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, to softer fare such as Captain Midnight, and early teen sex comedies like the 1925 silent picture, The Freshman. McPadden examines these films, many of which are decidedly not politically correct, in the context of our current world, acknowledging, for example, the problematic aspects of Revenge of the Nerds (1984). There are also insightful essays from various contributors, and loads of stunning, vintage poster art that will take you back.
Teen Movie Hell hasn’t been published just yet, but Dangerous Minds has a preview for you. We’ve got McPadden’s review of On the Air Live with Captain Midnight, along with pages from the book, which will follow. We’ve also included screenshots from the Captain Midnight film.
A fun trifle from interesting husband-and-wife schlock filmmakers Beverly and Ferd Sebastian (they also made the sexy 1974 bayou action flick Gator Bait and the crazy 1984 heavy metal movie Rocktober Blood), On the Air Live with Captain Midnight seems to have been unofficially and without acknowledgment remade in 1990 with Christian Slater as Pump Up the Volume. Technically, Pump is the better film, but in terms of conveying the movie’s subject—a teenager turned pirate radio star—the Captain rules the high seas all the way.
Tracy Sebastian, son of directors Bev and Ferd, stars as Ziggy, a high schooler who works part-time at a local radio station to make payments on his sweet van. While futzing with the van’s CB radio, Ziggy’s chubby nerdlinger pal Gargen (Barry Greenberg) accidentally takes over an FM broadcast signal. Ziggy immediately grabs the mouthpiece and launches into a rock-jock rap, introducing himself as “Captain Midnight.”
Every kid at school happens to be tuned in at just this moment. Instantly, Captain Midnight becomes a campus mystery and a hero. Ziggy-as-Cap keeps his good thing going, spinning tunes and spewing truths from his mobile outlaw broadcast station, building the legend each time he hits the airwaves.
Gargen, a teen movie nerd archetype.
The FCC catches wind of the Captain and dispatches Agent Pierson (veteran tough-guy actor John Ireland) to stop the madness. Real-life Los Angeles FM legend Jim Ladd, as “Disc Jockey,” voices support for the radio renegade.
Ziggy and the Disc Jockey.
Ziggy finally deigns to save Captain Midnight by destroying him. He announces he will parachute into Magic Mountain theme park, where devotees will finally get to press flesh with their underground idol. As the climactic scene unfolds, a local news report claims five thousand Cap fans have assembled amidst the amusements. The same locale also welcomed the band Sparks in Rollercoaster (1977) and Kiss in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978). On-screen, the crowd of “thousands” appears to number perhaps a few dozen extras.
Though the movie adventures of Captain Midnight end with the big airborne stunt, his spirit lived until at least until 1986, when a satellite TV tech jammed HBO’s Florida signal for five minutes and broadcast a message of outrage against the network’s service fee. The video protestor was named John R. MacDougall, but his on-air live handle was Captain Midnight.
Continues after the jump…