The obscure teen film that inspired ‘Captain Midnight’ the infamous HBO hacker
08:35 am

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:
Captain Midnight on HBO
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. 
Book cover
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.

Title card

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 DJ
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…

Posted by Bart Bealmear
08:35 am
‘Captain Midnight’ hacks HBO
04:18 pm

Deep into the night during an HBO broadcast of The Falcon and the Snowman in April 1986, subscribers were startled to see the start of the action interrupted by a four-and-a-half-minute transmission from a certain “Captain Midnight.” Over a test pattern, the message from Captain Midnight ran as follows:

$12.95/MONTH ?

Captain Midnight turned out to be a John MacDougall, an engineer at a satellite transmission facility in Ocala, Florida. MacDougall’s hacker attack was motivated by frustration at HBO, who he felt was overcharging satellite customers and hurting his satellite dish business. MacDougall was sentenced to one year’s probation and a $5,000 fine.

MacDougall’s annoyance had to do with a change in HBO’s decision to deny free access to their signals, as had been the case earlier:

Back in the early-80s, satellite dish owners were responsible for owning and servicing their own equipment but had access to any satellite broadcasted programming including that of cable providers. In the mid-80s, cable channels began scrambling their programming and charging fees to home satellite dish owners who accessed the signals requiring many satellite dish owners were forced to purchase expensive descrambling equipment in addition to paying monthly or annual subscription fees to cable programming providers. Satellite. When HBO scrambled its signal, it offered subscriptions to home dish owners for $12.95 per month, which was either equal to or slightly higher than what cable subscribers paid. Dish owners were not happy and it triggered a national movement among dish owners to more strongly regulate the cable industry and force them to stop anti-competitive pricing.

On April 27, 1986, MacDougall was working at Central Florida Teleport, overseeing the uplink of the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure for the pay-per-view network People’s Choice (now defunct). At the end of his shift, he aimed it at the location of the satellite that carried HBO. As a protest against the introduction of those high fees and scrambling equipment, he transmitted his signal, which briefly overrode HBO’s own signal.

Finding out the identity of Captain Midnight was no easy task. The FCC reasonably started with the premise that the perpetrator must have had access to a large dish with a powerful transmitter. The signature of the color bar test pattern further narrowed down their search. The investigation received a big boost when a witness reported hearing a conversation on a pay phone in which the caller kept referring to himself as “Captain Midnight.” The search took several months.

via Museum of Hoaxes

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Public park ‘sound sculpture’ hacked with porno sounds
In the Realm of the Hackers

Posted by Martin Schneider
04:18 pm