Mindless Mayhem #04: Cable TV Ripoff

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Section I: Listing of premium channels (screwed).

15 is The Movie Channel (TMC)
16 is Cinemax (MAX) {Filter encoding}
17 is Home Box Office (HBO)
18 is Showtime (SHOW)
22 is Disney (DIS)
24-is Cinemax (MAX) {gated-sync scrambled}

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Section II: Rundown of each premium channel.

15, TMC: The Movie Channel. Your average run of the mill movie channel. Just
movies, not much else. This channel is JAMMED; you need a filter to view it.

16, MAX: Cinemax. Mostly movies. Cinemax is currently being sent thought this
channel and channel 24. This channel is JAMMED, you need a filter to view it,
while 24 is scrambled with GATED-SYNC. You may wonder why they’re sending
this through two channels. Well, to cut costs, they a SLOWLY phasing out
gated-sync, because those little filters are MUCH cheaper. In large
quantity, they are much less than a buck. Too bad no one will sell them to
you legitimatly unless you are Ma Cable. So in the mean time, they have it
on two channels. So 24 will probably be some new shopping channel soon, eh?

17, HBO: Home Box Office. Movies, lame shows, etc. This channel is currently
TRAPPED, however, they are planning to change it to be JAMMED, for use with
a filter. While being TRAPPED, you are not really receiving a signal, as the
signal for that channel/frequency is blocked at the pole, that’s why you
should (hehe) have just snow on your screen. To get this free, you have to
climb the pole and remove the trap, which is a small cylinder. I would
suggest grabbing yours and another. Take the other, remove the shit inside,
and run a wire connecting the middle of the F connectors to either end. This
will be a ‘dummy’ cylinder. Put this back in place of the one you took out of
your outlet on the pole, to keep Ma Cable minding her own. I would suggest
getting a friend or two together to do this one. Have one go up the pole and
do the work, one lookout, and one handling the ladder. You only need a small
ladder, as there are rungs on the telephone poles to climb on.

18, SHOW: Showtime. Same everything as HBO. See Above.

22, DIS: The Disney Channel. Lame shit for the kiddies, no nudity, etc. Why do
you want this channel? Hehe. It’s trapped, you need a filter. See notes on
TMC.

24, MAX: Cinemax. See channel 16.

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Section III: Tricks and Shortcuts.

Quick and dirty way out of stealing filters.

If you don’t care about picture quality and want a quick, cheap alternative
to view any JAMMED channels, do the following:

Examine the back of the TV set and find the VHF antenna terminals. Get a
piece of antenna wire (thin flat brown stuff NOT THE SUPER INSULATED TYPE,
Radio Shack 15-004 is the good enough) and attach a three foot length to
the VHF terminals (do not disconnect the matching transformer which the
CATV cable is connected to.) Tune into one of the filtered channels and
adjust the fine tuner until you get the clearest picture. Cut off about
1/4″ of the antenna wire and adjust the fine tuner again. Continue to do
this until you get a good picture. (YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE TO CUT OFF MORE
THAN 6″ OF THE ANTENNA WIRE.) Get a piece of aluminum foil about
1″ square and wrap it around the antenna wire and slide it up and down
until you have a pretty good picture. This may take awhile to get
perfect.
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FM Stereo Outlet:
If you have a stereo TV, you probably already know that not all the good
channels are in stereo (MTV!) Or maybe you have a Gold Star 9″ black and
white TV because you’re Jewish, and don’t have stereo, but would like to
hear your fav channels in stereo. Build the following FM stereo outlet, turn
your TV volume down, and crank your radio up LOUD.

Obtain the following parts from your local obnoxious Radio Shit salesman:

15-1141 Hybrid Splitter ($3.95)
15-1140 Matching transformer ($2.79)
appropriate lengths of coax cable, one short, one long

After getting the materials, set up as seen in the diagram:

ÚÄÄÄÄ¿ ÚÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ¿
³ outÃÄÄ¿ ________________³ ³
ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ¿ ÚÄÄ´ ÃÄÄÙ ³ Cable Box ³
cable from wallÃÄÄ ³in³ ³ ³ ³
ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÙ ÀÄÄ´ ÃÄÄ¿ _____ ³ ³
³ outÃÄÄÙ \ ³ ³
ÀÄÄÄÄÙ ³ ÀÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÙ
hybrid splitter ³
³
³
³
ÚÄ¿
ÚÁÄÁ¿
³ ³
³ ³
75-300 ohm matching ³ ³
transformer ³ ³
³ ³
ÀÄÄÄÙ
/ \
/ \
/ \
/ \

attach these to ends to the FM
antenna screws on the back of
your fm receiver. (300 ohm inputs)

NOTE 1: Do not connect antenna wire AND cable wire at same time to back
of FM receiver, or this will result in very fuzzy reception for the cable
frequencies and normal radio freq.’s.

NOTE 2: If you are already paying for the FM service, you can cancel it
and do the above to re-attach it. They will explain to you that if they
send one of their highly qualified techs out to disconnect it, it will
cost you $25 for the service call. If you ask them if you can do it
yourself, they will tell you yes and to disconnect the 75-300 ohm
transformer from the radio and bring it into the office on Western Ave.
Since you are leaving the 2 way coupler and coax cable, on the way back
from the office drop by Radio Shack and pick up a new transformer. You
won’t need anything else.

Here are the frequencies to tune into with the FM outlet hookup:
HBO 88.9FM
SHOW 89.5FM
MTV 90.1FM
VH1 90.9FM
USA 92.1FM
TNN 93.5FM
DIS 94.9FM
TMC 95.9FM

NOTE 3: You can receive the sound on FM for any premium services you may
not otherwise have a picture for.
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$500 a day? Fuck this noise…

I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this one. They say if you’re caught with
illegal cable service, you can get fines in excess of $500 a day. Well, do all
your work (i.e. adding filters, etc.) INSIDE THE HOUSE. Do not put these on
the outside of your house, apt. where it comes into the dwelling. You DO NOT
have to let them into your house IF YOU DON’T WANT TO, provided they don’t
have a search warrant, and you’d have to give them alot of a tip for them to
go though the courts for that! I’d blow this one off if I were you.

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Obtaining Filters.

The best way is to know someone who can get them for you (me) or you should
climb the pole and steal them from your neighbor’s outlets on the pole
(usually all wires go into a green box on the pole. I guess they’re getting
cheap, as I hear they are no longer using the boxes in new neighborhood
wiring). For a short time, I have filters availible for $25 each. I have them
for all channels. This is only for a short time, If you can contact me, I MAY
be able to get them for you.

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Free Channels?

Yes, while they are switching all these channels around and what not, you
probably have free service on channels you are not paying for. At the time
this file was written, TMC is free on 15, HBO on 65, SHOW on 66. This may not
last long though. Enjoy them until they go out.

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Section IV: What the fuck?

For those of you a little more advanced and have your own idea’s
here is some important info. you will need.

Cable Channel Frequencies.

Chn No. Freq. Range Video Color Audio
——————————————————-
2 54-60 55.25 58.83 59.75
3 60-66 61.25 64.83 65.75
4 66-72 67.25 70.83 71.75
5 76-82 77.25 80.83 81.75
6 82-88 83.25 86.83 87.75
7 174-180 175.83 178.83 179.75
8 180-186 181.25 184.83 185.75
9 186-192 187.25 190.83 191.73
10 192-198 193.25 196.83 197.75
11 198-204 199.25 202.83 203.75
12 204-210 205.25 208.83 209.75
13 210-216 211.25 214.83 215.75
14 120-126 121.25 124.83 125.75
15 126-132 127.25 130.83 131.75
16 132-138 133.25 136.83 137.75
17 138-144 139.25 142.83 143.75
18 144-150 145.25 148.83 149.75
19 150-156 151.25 154.83 155.75
20 156-162 157.25 160.83 161.75
21 162-168 163.25 166.83 167.75
22 168-174 169.25 172.83 173.75
23 216-222 217.25 220.83 221.75
24 222-228 223.25 226.83 227.75
25 228-234 229.25 232.83 233.75
26 234-240 235.25 238.83 239.75
27 240-246 241.25 244.83 245.75
28 246-252 247.25 250.83 251.75
29 252-258 253.25 256.83 257.75
30 258-264 259.25 262.83 263.75
31 264-270 265.25 268.83 269.75
32 270-276 271.25 274.83 275.75
33 276-282 277.25 280.83 281.75
34 282-288 283.25 286.83 287.75
35 288-294 289.25 292.83 293.75
36 294-300 295.25 298.83 299.75
37 300-306 301.25 304.83 305.75
38 306-312 307.25 310.83 311.75
39 312-318 313.25 316.83 317.75
40 318-324 319.25 322.83 323.75
41 324-330 325.25 328.83 329.75
42 330-336 331.25 334.83 335.75
43 336-342 337.25 340.83 341.75
44 342-348 343.25 346.25 347.46
45 348-354 349.25 352.83 353.75
46 354-360 355.25 358.83 359.75
47 360-366 361.25 364.83 365.75
48 366-372 367.25 370.83 371.75
49 372-378 373.25 376.83 377.75
50 378-384 379.25 382.83 383.75
51 384-390 385.25 388.83 389.75
52 390-396 391.25 394.83 395.75
53 396-402 397.25 400.83 402.75
54 72-78 73.25 76.83 77.75
55 78-84 79.25 82.83 83.75
56 84-90 85.25 88.93 89.73
57 90-96 91.46 94.47 95.48
58 96-102 97.25 100.83 101.75
59 102-108 103.25 106.83 107.75
60 108-114 109.25 112.83 113.75
61 114-120 115.25 118.83 119.75

Pay TV Decoder Plans

MATERIALS REQUIRED:

1 – Radio Shack mini-box ( #270-235)
1 – 1/4 watt resistor, 2.2k-2.4k ohm
(RS #271-1325)
1 – 75pf-100pf variable capacitor
(Hard to find)
2 – F61a chassis-type coaxial
connectors (RS #278-212)
12″ – No. 12 solid copper wire
12″ – RG59 coaxial cable

///INSTRUCTIONS///

1. Bare a length of No. 12 gauge solid
copper wire and twist around a 3/8″
nail or rod to form a coil of 9 turns.
Elongate coil to a length of 1 1/2″
inches and form right angle bends on
each end.

2. Solder the varible capacitor to
the coil. It doesn’t matter where you
solder it, it still does the same job.
The best place for it is in the center
with the adjustment screw facing upward

Note: When it comes time to place coil
in box, the coil must be insulated from
grounding. This can be done by crazy-
glueing a piece of rubber to the bottom
of the box, and securing the coil to it.

3. Tap coil at points 2 1/2 turns from
ends of coil and solder to coaxial
chassis connectors, bringing tap leads
through holes in chassis box. Use as
little wire as possible.

4. Solder resistor to center of coil
and ground other end of resistor to
chassis box, using solder lug and small
screw.

5. Drill a 1/2″ diameter hold in mini-
box cover to permit adjustment of the
variable capacitor from the outside.
Inspect the device for defects in
workmanship and place cover on mini-
box. Tighten securely.

6. Place device in line with existing
cable on either side of the coverter
box and connect to television set with
the short piece of RG59 coaxial cable.
Set television set to HBO channel.

7. Using a plastic screwdriver (non-matalic)
adjust the varible capacitor until picture
tunes in. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!!!

How to Get Free Cable

It’s late at night, the lights are out and the dull white and black static
of the television dances on the screen. Phredd sits and grimly watches the
meaningless, squiggling patterns. This is the channel where Cinemax *should*
be, but due to Phredd’s thin and worn wallet, he must do with white noise.
Later in the month, Phredd stays home from work and ignores his lithe,
attractive girlfriend’s pleas. He rushes to the television, leaving a
spiralling trail of popcorn and cookie crumbs behind him. He is ready for the
most incredible adventure of the year… his short period of *free* Cinemax,
Disney Channel, HBO and The Movie Channel! He sits on the edge of his seat,
watching Dumbo and Stallone… and when the week-end is over, he is reduced to
a red-eyed static zombie once more.

“Aha,” you murmur, “This sad tale of woe has been repeated many times
over, and as I am neither rich nor an electronics genius, I cannot get free
cable pay channels like HBO.” But let us go back to poor Phredd’s predicament.
His nerves are frayed, as poor Phredd knows that tonight is his last night of
movie enjoyment. Then, from the clinging shadows of night, Doktor Bollix steps
forth and tips his black hat.

Phredd stumbles backwards and gasps in amazement, “I th-thought I locked
the door!”
“I entered via the window, eh wot?” Bollix mumbles, some sort of gummi
candy peering from between his lips. Bollix stands beside Phredd’s cable box
after a few quick strides, and roughly yanks the lovingly attached cable in the
back, plucking it free.
“Aiiieeee! Schwarzenegger is gone! What have you done???” Phredd springs
from the sofa, bruising his fragile skull and damaging the ceiling. “My cable!
My life!” Moans Phredd.
“Shut up and listen. When the cable company computers decide to give you a
channel for free, they send a code to you via your cable, switching the channel
‘on’. Thus it remains for a given duration, and when the time’s up….”
“No more Cinemax…
Bollix leans against a plant, “When time’s up, they send another signal to
your box, shutting the channel ‘off’. However, if your cable box is
disconnected for a few days, the ‘off’ signal never reaches it and the channel
remains ‘on’!” Bollix smiles. “And you don’t pay a thing.”
Phredd’s bleary eyes gaze upwards in wonder at Bollix. “Y-y-you mean… I
get the Disney Channel, FOR FREE??” Bollix nods with a grin. “Wow! I shall
never be sad again! no more late-night eyestrain! I can’t believe it… ”
“Keep calm, Phredd.”
“How can I ever repay you?” a vibrant Phredd asks.
“Just spread the word of “Bob”. You just received a major imbuement of
slack. Enjoy.” Bollix wriggled back out the window, and disappeared with a
faint “Praise Dobbs” echoing in the distance. And Phredd leaned back in his
chair, relaxed and confident and watched the blank screen of the television as
he waited for morining. A new morning in his new world of cable. Free cable.

The Time Captain Midnight took over HBO

It started out as just another Saturday. April 26, 1986. John R.
MacDougall, 25, spent the day alone at his satellite TV dealership in Ocala,
Florida, waiting for customers who never came. “It was,” he says, “a normal
day in the doldrums of the satellite TV industry.” But that night, MacDougall,
5 feet 11, 225 pounds, and prone to nervously running his fingers through his
reddish blond hair and adjusting his glasses, would transform into Captain
Midnight and set the world of satellite television spinning.

Business had been flat since January 15, when Home Box Office became the
first pay TV service to scramble its signal full time. Other services were
following HBO’s lead. Dish owners were balking at the cost of descramblers and
program fees. Potential customers were confused and stayed away in droves.The
1985 boom in dish sales had simply petered out, and MacDougall Electronics, in
business for just two-and-a-half years, had seen its early profits disappear.

American Dream

MacDougall had stopped advertising and turned off his air-conditioner to save
money. With no customers, he idled away the day watching TV and reading
magazines. Later, he would say, “I have been watching the great American dream
slip from my grasp.”

To make ends meet, MacDougall spent his evenings moonlighting as a part-time
operations engineer at Central Florida Teleport, a local company that uplinks
services to satellites. He was a natural electronics engineer. A good
student, he had spent his spare time during his teenage years tinkering with CB
radios and automobiles. With some pals, he rebuilt a 1923 Ford roadster that
he still owns. He had dropped out of a management engineering course at
Worcester Polytechnical Institute in Massachusetts after two years, but his
first job was installing satellite TV dishes.”My father used to tell me I would
need to get a job where I would be able to make money by watching TV just
because I liked TV so much,” he says. At Central Florida Teleport, he could do
just that. At 4 p.m. on that Saturday, MacDougall shut up shop. He stopped
at his home, where he lived alone, picked up a sandwich for supper, and then
reported to the teleport. After two hours, a second engineer went off duty and
MacDougall was alone in the small building that is flanked on one side by five
large satellite dishes.

As the end of his shift drew near, MacDougall was absently watching Pee-Wee’s
Big Adventure, a movie he was uplinking for the now-defunct pay-per-view
service, People’s Choice. But something else was on his mind. When the film
ended, MacDougall went through the normal routine. Before logging off, he set
up color bars and punched buttons to swing the giant 30 foot dish he’d been
using to its resting place. That was necessary because the soil beneath the
dish’s cement pad is sandy clay. Rainfall could throw it off-kilter, but by
setting it in a certain way the rain runs harmlessly into a gutter. At its
resting place, the dish points directly at the satellite Galaxy 1.
Transpondedr 23 on that satellite carries the eastern feed of HBO. “That’s
when I decided to do it,”says MacDougall. “It wasn’t like I thought about it,
‘Yes. No. Yes. No.’ It was just, ‘Yeah!'” He scrolled up a character
generator, and electronic keyboard that puts letters across the TV screen, and
tried to think what to write. “I didn’t know exactly how to start it,” he
says. “I wrote ‘Goodevening.” I wanted to be polite. I didn’t want it to be
vulgar or call them names or anything. That’s not my style.”

He spent a couple of minutes composing his message. The idea of using the
name Captain Midnight, he says, “just popped into my mind.” He had recently
seen a movie with that title about a teenager who had a pirate radio station in
his van. Now HBO was airing the Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton espionage movie,
The Falcon and the Snowman. It was at 12:32 a.m. Sunday, April 27, that John
R. MacDougall pushed the transmit button on his console and turned into
Captain Midnight. “That’s when I hit it,” he says. “It was almost like an
out-of-body experience. It was like I was there but I wasn’t really there.”

For 4 1/2 minutes, HBO viewers in the eastern United States saw this message:

GOODEVENING HBO
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
$12.95/MONTH?
NO WAY!
(SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE)

A week earlier, MacDougall had successfully overridden HBO’s powerful signal
momentarily with just a test pattern. (He now publicly denies this, but he
admitted it to a United States attorney.) The network had quickly brushed that
signal aside, attributing it to not uncommon accidental interference. This
time, the engineer on duty at HBO’s Long Island, New York, uplink station
simply stepped up the signal’s power. HBO was transmitting at 125 watts. When
Captain Midnight applied more power, the HBO engineer revved up to match it.
“He saw the interference and saw that he was losing a grip on things,” says
George Dillon, an engineer who investigated the episode for the enforcement and
investigative division of the Federal Communications Commission. “This little
game took 60 to 90 seconds. You had these two people at their respective
stations fighting for control.”

As Captain Midnight’s signal surged, HBO placed a frantic call to Hughes
Communications Inc., which owns Galaxy 1, asking: “Is there something wrong
with the bird?” Says Dillon, “HBO thought it might cause damage to the
satellite, so they gave it up.

NEVER LOST CONTROL

In Ocala, Captain Midnight was stunned. “I could see my signal on top of
HBO’s as soon as I hit the transmit button,” says MacDougall. “I stared at the
monitor for a while, and then I didn’t know if it was two minutes or 10
minutes.” Caught up with engineering curiosity, he monitored power levels and
downlink signals. “At no time,” he says, “did I lose control over the
transponder.” But then, as suddenly as he had struck, he quit. “When I shut it
off, I really didn’t know how long I had been on top of HBO, but that’s when I
started to feel very guilty,” he says. “I thought, “Ohmigod, what did I do?’
That thought raced through my mind for the next 10 or 15 minutes as I
reconfigured the teleport back to normal. The guilt really set in that night.
I didn’t sleep very well.”

On Sunday morning he woke up to the same nagging doubts. “I thought maybe I
should turn myself in. But then I thought, ‘Well, let’s be rational. Nobody’s
going to see it. Nobody cares. HBO will know. They’ll get the message.
They’ll reconsider their arbitrary and unfair pricing, and maybe I’ll read
about it in a few months in Satellite Orbit. That’s basically how I
rationalized, not panicking, and went on with my daily routine that Sunday.’

Then he saw that Captain Midnight’s HBO ambush was making TV’s network
newscasts, and he began to panic. “I was devastated and so nervous with
frustration. I had to work that night at the teleport. Another man was going
to be there for the first two hours. When he got there I had to pretend and
say things like, “Dkid you see this guy Captain Midnight? Geez, do you realize
what in the world, he could have done?’ That was difficult.”

Normally, MacDougall’s natural curiosity would have made him the first to
want to discuss how it was done. But as the event made national headlines and
became fodder for jokes by David Letterman and Johnny Carson, he went the other
way, trying to play it down. The tension grew as HBO clamored for his head,
and the FCC and even Congress got involved.

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 Commission to “use all its investigative resources” to capture
Captain Midnight.

“This wasn’t just a jamming, but a jamming and replacement. And a
fascinating one at that,” says HBO spokesman Alan Levy. “That’s why you saw a
lot of action on this case. We understand that the dish owners are at odds
with the programmers, but when you escalate it to this point, it gets a little
wild and woolly. And when you’re breaking the satellite system of the United
States, it’s very serious.”

FCC investigator Dillon says the implications of the incident involved a
threat to the national security. “There’s lots of highly sensitive data
involved. If you have a bandit, it could disrupt the business of the United
States–things like defense communications, medical information, telephone
communications, and teleconferences.

Edgar Eagan, owner of Central Florida Teleport, took the incident very
seriously. “He logged out and signed the log and decided to stay and play,”
says Eagan, founder and past president of ESPN, the sports network. “In
reality he was using the equipment for an unauthorized and illegal purpose.”

RUMORS GALORE

As the investigation proceeded, rumors abounded. Satellite TV publications
and television commentators received calls and tapes from people claiming to be
Captain Midnight. The FBI was said to be on the case, and the hunt was rumored
to focus on Dallas, Texas.

In Ocala, MacDougall had decided to “play it dumb.” Discreetly, he talked to
colleagues in the satellite TV business to find out how the investigation was
going. But gradually he could not resist discussing the incident with other
engineers and operators who talked about what happens when two signals meet on
a single transponder. He was outraged when they dismissed his observations.

“I don’t like to say this, but even the more skilled personnel were of the
assumption that you would never get a clear signal with two signals feeding on
the same channel,” MacDougall says. “I brought out the fact that if one was
much stronger than the other, it would override it. At that point they told me
I was wrong, and that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“All of my life people have never taken my word for things because I’ve
always seemed to be a little younger than they are, and maybe a little less
experienced, but I’ve always come up with the right answer. They didn’t seem
to believe my theory. Well, I guess they ought to believe it now, because I
was right.”

THE TIP OFF

It was a phone call made by a disgruntled dish owner from Ocala that
concentrated the FCC’s investigation on the Central Florida Teleport. Someone
claiming to be Captain Midnight was overheard by a tourist from Wisconsin at a
phone booth just off Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Florida. The tourist
reported the conversation and the man’s license plate number to the FCC.
MacDougall says the impostor was a customer of his, but he doesn’t know his
last name. Again, he was outraged. “He was very militant about scrambling and
the cable progra business, and not tried to make out like some kind of hero, I
would still be panicking and wondering whether they were going to come and get
me.”

MacDougall’s voice rises as he exclaims, “I still can’t believe this guy
actually told people he was Captain Midnight and MacDougall says the only time
he broke the law was driving over the 55 mph speed limit. “I never even bought
beer under age. I was a model citizen,” he says earnestly.

FCC MOVES IN

In July, FCC investigators talked to MacDougall, asking questions that led
him to believe they knew what had happened. He told them he hadn’t done it,
and that he had no knowledge of the incident, but then he really began to
worry. “I was very concerned about it, but I didn’t let on,” he says. “I’m
able to hide my feelings very well. I can just about convince people I’m a
total raving maniac at the same time.”

Two weeks later, the FCC returned. This time, they brought along U.S.
Attorney Lawrence Gentile III, who served MacDougall with a subpoena to appear
in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. According to MacDougall, their
conversation went like this:

“What’s this for?” MacDougall asked when Gentile held out the subpoena.

“Captain Midnight,” answered Gentile. “Aren’t you aware that you’re a
suspect in this incident?”

“You’re trying to tell me that just because I’m a satellite dish dealer and I
happened to work for a teleport, I’m a suspect? responded MacDougall.

“There are other things,” replied Gentile.

“Well, what are they?” asked MacDougall.

“We can’t discuss it here,” said Gentile. “We can talk about it in front of
the grand jury. You need to think very carefully about this. You seem like a
level-headed man, but you don’t seem to be taking this seriously. This is a
serious time. You might want to consult with an attorney.”

“Attorney for what?” questioned MacDougall. “I haven’t done anything. An
innocent man does not need an attorney. The only people who hire attorneys are
guilty people.”

According to MacDougall, Gentile then attempted to reach an agreement with
him. “If you would be willing to talk to us about this and tell us what you
know about this incident right now,” said Gentile, “I’d be willing to recommend
probation to the judge and a small fine. Probation and a fine are not bad
considering what you’re facing. Let’s face it, Mr. MacDougall, this is not
the crime of the century. However, we have been getting a lot of pressure on
this.”

MacDougall said at that point he began to think there was not enough evidence
to convict him; otherwise he wouldn’t have been offered a plea bargain. Still
claiming innocence, MacDougall told Gentile he would see him in Jacksonville.

MacDougall’s first brief jamming raid on HBO led investigators to strongly
suspect him. The investigation had been narrowed down to uplink stations with
the capacity to pull off both raids, and then to those manned by the same
person at the time of each incident. “We had a very good idea he was our man,”
says Gentile. “Of all the people I talked with, he was the only one I gave
target warnings to [the equivalent of the Miranda warnings police give when
they make an arrest]. “He says he leaned on MacDougall “pretty hard.”

MEET CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT

Taking Gentile’s advice, MacDougall contacted an Ocala attorney, John Green
Jr. When they first met, MacDougall recalls, “he said, ‘Well, John, tell me
about Captain Midnight.’ And I reached out my hand and said, ‘Well, here,
that’s me.'”

Green advised him that he had a 70-percent chance of winning the case. If
convicted, he faced a $100,000 fine and/or one year in jail. But MacDougall
decided to enter a plea of guilty. “There were two reasons,” he said. “I
could release my guilt, plead guilty, and get it over with, do the right thing.
That kept panging at me: do the right thing. But the other side, the
activist, kept saying, ‘Stand up for your rights.’ My idealism and my activism
were combating my conservative upbringing and my conservative political
leanings. They were battling back and forth, and I was at my wits’ end. I
didn’t know what to do.”

MacDougall also worried about going before the grand jury and trying to lie
his way out of the charge. “I would not have wanted to take a midemeanor and
make it a felony by committing perjury,” he says. In the end, the determining
factor was money. Green advised his client that going to trial could take 6 to
12 months and cost $30,000 to $40,000. “During that time,” MacDougall says, “I
couldn’t have said anything, and I would have been bombarded by the press. It
would have been a nightmare.”

Fighting and then losing the case was always a possibility, and MacDougall
conjured up nightmares of what that might entail. “This was a federal
penitentiary they could have sent me to,” he said. “The concept just didn’t
register, to be sitting eating lunch with the other convicts in striped
uniforms, and a guy says, ‘Hey, what are you in for?” And I say, ‘Oh, I
operated a trnsmitter without a license.’ I couldn’t take the risk.”

FUN EDUCATION

By the time he went to the federal court on July 22 and went through the
arrest procedure, which included being photographed and fingerprinted,
MacDougall’s curiosity was back in full force. “If I hadn’t been directly
involved, it probably would have been a fun educational experience,” he says.
“You can’t just plead guilty to a crime. It’s hours and hours of discussion,
and you have to prove to the prosecutor, and also the judge, that you are
guilty. Then, you have to prove you weren’t coerced into making the statement,
and that you have knowledge of your rights.” MacDougall says officials at both
the July 22 hearing and the sentencing, on August 26, were surprisingly
cordial. He speaks of smiles, handshakes from marshals, and understanding from
U.S. Magistrate Howard T. Snyder, who fined him $5,000 and placed him on one
year’s probation. “I’m glad to see that the legal system does work,” he says.

Meanwhile, although convicted in court, MacDougall had become a hero to many
dish owners and satellite TV dealers. A group calling itself the Captain
Midnight Grassroots Coalition had formed and was selling bumper stickers,
T-shirts, visors, and sweat bands to raise money for MacDougall’s legal costs.
Said Donald Cochran, spokesman for the coalition: “While there are those who
consider Captain Midnight a criminal for his unauthorized transmissions, there
is another group made up of home satellite dish owners, small business people,
and rebels, who support his actions as a non-violent and non-destructive
protest in the best American tradition.”

THE RIGHT REASONS

MacDougall says he has had no direct involvement with the coalition, but he
adds, “I would like to see my own industry support me in this. Even though I
may have done more harm than good, as some people think, I did it for the right
reasons.”

Central Florida Teleport owner Eagan, on the other hand, says that local
opinion in Ocala and surrounding Marion County has gotten “silly.” When the
coalition presented MacDougall with its first donation, a check for $500, in
September, a crowd gathered outside his office, and drivers of passing cars and
pickup trucks honked their horns. Says Eagan, “There’s a group of people here
who think that John MacDougall is a wonderful man and a great hero who has done
wonderful things for them. But to me, that has not been placed in the
perspective of the world view or even the regional view. Ninety-nine and nine
tenths [percent] of the people don’t agree.”

Eagan says the only positive thing to come out of the incident was that
MacDougall was in the home dish business and so there was at least a reason for
him to have done it. “If it had been some crackpot who did it just for the
hell of it, or an employee being vindictive, then the corporate community would
have been more upset. This way they can say, ‘We’re not the target, HBO was.'”

Still, the FCC is stepping up security. It has moved to require that by the
end of 1987 every radio and television transmitter must use an electronic name
tag whenever it is on the air. Each satellite uplink station would leave a
unique, unchangeable electronic signature whenever it was used. Also, a bill
is being drafted in Congress that would raise the penalty for satellite
interference to a $250,000 fine and/or 10 years in jail.

SCRAMBLING A REALITY

HBO’s Levy says that now that scrambling is a reality, he believes consumers
are dropping their emotional resistance to it. “We were the first ones to
scramble,” he says. “We got the arrows in the back and we were the ones to get
jammed. We’re over the first hurdle. HBO wants its products in every home in
America. We are attempting to increase our business through home dish owners.
We’re calling for the marketplace to set the price. It wouldn’t make sense for
HBO to stifle its growth.

MacDougall says he never contested the right of HBO and other programmers to
make a profit from their programs, nor did he object to their right to protect
those profits by scrambling signals. “My real concern is that the free and
competitive marketplace be allowed to operate for the benefit of the American
people,” he says. Now, he believes that the last line of Captain Midnight’s
message [Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!] was misunderstood and got him into a
lot of trouble. “It was a bad choice of words on my part,” he says. “I was
just trying to tell them: “Look before you leap. Don’t follow HBO as the
leader.'”

It was, he says, the act of a frustrated individual who was trying to get his
point across to people who didn’t seem to listen. He hopes no one will try to
imitate what he did: “The message is now out; there’s no reason to do it
again.”

MacDougall was born in Elmhurst, Illinois, just outside Chicago. His mother,
Thelma is a homemaker, and his father, Robert, was a successful building
contractor, who retired when MacDougall was 9. The youngest of three brothers
and one sister, MacDougall moved to Florida with his family shortly after his
father’s retirement at the age of 47. MacDougall speaks often of his father.
Although his entire family supported him after the HBO incident, he says, “My
father is of the old school, a very staunch conservative: the law is the law,
and it should never be broken.”

WAS IT WORTH IT?

MacDougall says he doesn’t know now if playing Captain Midnight was worth it
all: “I might be able to better answer that in a couple of months.” He intends
to write a book about the incident and plans to continue holding on with his
satellite TV business in Ocala. He says that like many small businessmen, he
didn’t start off with enough money, although he did turn a profit in his first
year. “I’m losing money now and a good businessman doesn’t lose money,” he
admits. “I didn’t buy expensive food. I bought cheap gas for my car. I cut
everything I could and I’m still losing. Now, I can barely plan a month ahead
because of the volatile changes in the business. You never know what’s going
to happen the next day.”

MacDougall believes in himself, although he says he’s not a great salesman.
He lost his job at the Central Florida Teleport before he was revealed as
Captain Midnight, because People’s Choice went off the air. But all the
publicity has resulted in more repair business from dish owners, and he says
manufacturers return his calls quicker now. “There’s a certain pride that goes
into my systems,” he says. “I sell a part of myself with each system.”

For all his public declarations of regret, there is also an undeniable pride
in having pulled off the notorious HBO raid. “Did I know it would work?” asks
Captain Midnight.

“DEFINITELY!”


The Story of Captain Midnight

It started out as just another Saturday. April 26, 1986. John R.
MacDougall, 25, spent the day alone at his satellite TV dealership in Ocala,
Florida, waiting for customers who never came. “It was,” he says, “a normal
day in the doldrums of the satellite TV industry.” But that night, MacDougall,
5 feet 11, 225 pounds, and prone to nervously running his fingers through his
reddish blond hair and adjusting his glasses, would transform into Captain
Midnight and set the world of satellite television spinning.

Business had been flat since January 15, when Home Box Office became the
first pay TV service to scramble its signal full time. Other services were
following HBO’s lead. Dish owners were balking at the cost of descramblers and
program fees. Potential customers were confused and stayed away in droves.The
1985 boom in dish sales had simply petered out, and MacDougall Electronics, in
business for just two-and-a-half years, had seen its early profits disappear.

American Dream

MacDougall had stopped advertising and turned off his air-conditioner to save
money. With no customers, he idled away the day watching TV and reading
magazines. Later, he would say, “I have been watching the great American dream
slip from my grasp.”

To make ends meet, MacDougall spent his evenings moonlighting as a part-time
operations engineer at Central Florida Teleport, a local company that uplinks
services to satellites. He was a natural electronics engineer. A good
student, he had spent his spare time during his teenage years tinkering with CB
radios and automobiles. With some pals, he rebuilt a 1923 Ford roadster that
he still owns. He had dropped out of a management engineering course at
Worcester Polytechnical Institute in Massachusetts after two years, but his
first job was installing satellite TV dishes.”My father used to tell me I would
need to get a job where I would be able to make money by watching TV just
because I liked TV so much,” he says. At Central Florida Teleport, he could do
just that. At 4 p.m. on that Saturday, MacDougall shut up shop. He stopped
at his home, where he lived alone, picked up a sandwich for supper, and then
reported to the teleport. After two hours, a second engineer went off duty and
MacDougall was alone in the small building that is flanked on one side by five
large satellite dishes.

As the end of his shift drew near, MacDougall was absently watching Pee-Wee’s
Big Adventure, a movie he was uplinking for the now-defunct pay-per-view
service, People’s Choice. But something else was on his mind. When the film
ended, MacDougall went through the normal routine. Before logging off, he set
up color bars and punched buttons to swing the giant 30 foot dish he’d been
using to its resting place. That was necessary because the soil beneath the
dish’s cement pad is sandy clay. Rainfall could throw it off-kilter, but by
setting it in a certain way the rain runs harmlessly into a gutter. At its
resting place, the dish points directly at the satellite Galaxy 1.
Transpondedr 23 on that satellite carries the eastern feed of HBO. “That’s
when I decided to do it,”says MacDougall. “It wasn’t like I thought about it,
‘Yes. No. Yes. No.’ It was just, ‘Yeah!'” He scrolled up a character
generator, and electronic keyboard that puts letters across the TV screen, and
tried to think what to write. “I didn’t know exactly how to start it,” he
says. “I wrote ‘Goodevening.” I wanted to be polite. I didn’t want it to be
vulgar or call them names or anything. That’s not my style.”

He spent a couple of minutes composing his message. The idea of using the
name Captain Midnight, he says, “just popped into my mind.” He had recently
seen a movie with that title about a teenager who had a pirate radio station in
his van. Now HBO was airing the Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton espionage movie,
The Falcon and the Snowman. It was at 12:32 a.m. Sunday, April 27, that John
R. MacDougall pushed the transmit button on his console and turned into
Captain Midnight. “That’s when I hit it,” he says. “It was almost like an
out-of-body experience. It was like I was there but I wasn’t really there.”

For 4 1/2 minutes, HBO viewers in the eastern United States saw this message:

GOODEVENING HBO
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
$12.95/MONTH?
NO WAY!
(SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE)

A week earlier, MacDougall had successfully overridden HBO’s powerful signal
momentarily with just a test pattern. (He now publicly denies this, but he
admitted it to a United States attorney.) The network had quickly brushed that
signal aside, attributing it to not uncommon accidental interference. This
time, the engineer on duty at HBO’s Long Island, New York, uplink station
simply stepped up the signal’s power. HBO was transmitting at 125 watts. When
Captain Midnight applied more power, the HBO engineer revved up to match it.
“He saw the interference and saw that he was losing a grip on things,” says
George Dillon, an engineer who investigated the episode for the enforcement and
investigative division of the Federal Communications Commission. “This little
game took 60 to 90 seconds. You had these two people at their respective
stations fighting for control.”

As Captain Midnight’s signal surged, HBO placed a frantic call to Hughes
Communications Inc., which owns Galaxy 1, asking: “Is there something wrong
with the bird?” Says Dillon, “HBO thought it might cause damage to the
satellite, so they gave it up.

NEVER LOST CONTROL

In Ocala, Captain Midnight was stunned. “I could see my signal on top of
HBO’s as soon as I hit the transmit button,” says MacDougall. “I stared at the
monitor for a while, and then I didn’t know if it was two minutes or 10
minutes.” Caught up with engineering curiosity, he monitored power levels and
downlink signals. “At no time,” he says, “did I lose control over the
transponder.” But then, as suddenly as he had struck, he quit. “When I shut it
off, I really didn’t know how long I had been on top of HBO, but that’s when I
started to feel very guilty,” he says. “I thought, “Ohmigod, what did I do?’
That thought raced through my mind for the next 10 or 15 minutes as I
reconfigured the teleport back to normal. The guilt really set in that night.
I didn’t sleep very well.”

On Sunday morning he woke up to the same nagging doubts. “I thought maybe I
should turn myself in. But then I thought, ‘Well, let’s be rational. Nobody’s
going to see it. Nobody cares. HBO will know. They’ll get the message.
They’ll reconsider their arbitrary and unfair pricing, and maybe I’ll read
about it in a few months in Satellite Orbit. That’s basically how I
rationalized, not panicking, and went on with my daily routine that Sunday.’

Then he saw that Captain Midnight’s HBO ambush was making TV’s network
newscasts, and he began to panic. “I was devastated and so nervous with
frustration. I had to work that night at the teleport. Another man was going
to be there for the first two hours. When he got there I had to pretend and
say things like, “Dkid you see this guy Captain Midnight? Geez, do you realize
what in the world, he could have done?’ That was difficult.”

Normally, MacDougall’s natural curiosity would have made him the first to
want to discuss how it was done. But as the event made national headlines and
became fodder for jokes by David Letterman and Johnny Carson, he went the other
way, trying to play it down. The tension grew as HBO clamored for his head,
and the FCC and even Congress got involved.

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 Commission to “use all its investigative resources” to capture
Captain Midnight.

“This wasn’t just a jamming, but a jamming and replacement. And a
fascinating one at that,” says HBO spokesman Alan Levy. “That’s why you saw a
lot of action on this case. We understand that the dish owners are at odds
with the programmers, but when you escalate it to this point, it gets a little
wild and woolly. And when you’re breaking the satellite system of the United
States, it’s very serious.”

FCC investigator Dillon says the implications of the incident involved a
threat to the national security. “There’s lots of highly sensitive data
involved. If you have a bandit, it could disrupt the business of the United
States–things like defense communications, medical information, telephone
communications, and teleconferences.

Edgar Eagan, owner of Central Florida Teleport, took the incident very
seriously. “He logged out and signed the log and decided to stay and play,”
says Eagan, founder and past president of ESPN, the sports network. “In
reality he was using the equipment for an unauthorized and illegal purpose.”

RUMORS GALORE

As the investigation proceeded, rumors abounded. Satellite TV publications
and television commentators received calls and tapes from people claiming to be
Captain Midnight. The FBI was said to be on the case, and the hunt was rumored
to focus on Dallas, Texas.

In Ocala, MacDougall had decided to “play it dumb.” Discreetly, he talked to
colleagues in the satellite TV business to find out how the investigation was
going. But gradually he could not resist discussing the incident with other
engineers and operators who talked about what happens when two signals meet on
a single transponder. He was outraged when they dismissed his observations.

“I don’t like to say this, but even the more skilled personnel were of the
assumption that you would never get a clear signal with two signals feeding on
the same channel,” MacDougall says. “I brought out the fact that if one was
much stronger than the other, it would override it. At that point they told me
I was wrong, and that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“All of my life people have never taken my word for things because I’ve
always seemed to be a little younger than they are, and maybe a little less
experienced, but I’ve always come up with the right answer. They didn’t seem
to believe my theory. Well, I guess they ought to believe it now, because I
was right.”

THE TIP OFF

It was a phone call made by a disgruntled dish owner from Ocala that
concentrated the FCC’s investigation on the Central Florida Teleport. Someone
claiming to be Captain Midnight was overheard by a tourist from Wisconsin at a
phone booth just off Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Florida. The tourist
reported the conversation and the man’s license plate number to the FCC.
MacDougall says the impostor was a customer of his, but he doesn’t know his
last name. Again, he was outraged. “He was very militant about scrambling and
the cable progra business, and not tried to make out like some kind of hero, I
would still be panicking and wondering whether they were going to come and get
me.”

MacDougall’s voice rises as he exclaims, “I still can’t believe this guy
actually told people he was Captain Midnight and MacDougall says the only time
he broke the law was driving over the 55 mph speed limit. “I never even bought
beer under age. I was a model citizen,” he says earnestly.

FCC MOVES IN

In July, FCC investigators talked to MacDougall, asking questions that led
him to believe they knew what had happened. He told them he hadn’t done it,
and that he had no knowledge of the incident, but then he really began to
worry. “I was very concerned about it, but I didn’t let on,” he says. “I’m
able to hide my feelings very well. I can just about convince people I’m a
total raving maniac at the same time.”

Two weeks later, the FCC returned. This time, they brought along U.S.
Attorney Lawrence Gentile III, who served MacDougall with a subpoena to appear
in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. According to MacDougall, their
conversation went like this:

“What’s this for?” MacDougall asked when Gentile held out the subpoena.

“Captain Midnight,” answered Gentile. “Aren’t you aware that you’re a
suspect in this incident?”

“You’re trying to tell me that just because I’m a satellite dish dealer and I
happened to work for a teleport, I’m a suspect? responded MacDougall.

“There are other things,” replied Gentile.

“Well, what are they?” asked MacDougall.

“We can’t discuss it here,” said Gentile. “We can talk about it in front of
the grand jury. You need to think very carefully about this. You seem like a
level-headed man, but you don’t seem to be taking this seriously. This is a
serious time. You might want to consult with an attorney.”

“Attorney for what?” questioned MacDougall. “I haven’t done anything. An
innocent man does not need an attorney. The only people who hire attorneys are
guilty people.”

According to MacDougall, Gentile then attempted to reach an agreement with
him. “If you would be willing to talk to us about this and tell us what you
know about this incident right now,” said Gentile, “I’d be willing to recommend
probation to the judge and a small fine. Probation and a fine are not bad
considering what you’re facing. Let’s face it, Mr. MacDougall, this is not
the crime of the century. However, we have been getting a lot of pressure on
this.”

MacDougall said at that point he began to think there was not enough evidence
to convict him; otherwise he wouldn’t have been offered a plea bargain. Still
claiming innocence, MacDougall told Gentile he would see him in Jacksonville.

MacDougall’s first brief jamming raid on HBO led investigators to strongly
suspect him. The investigation had been narrowed down to uplink stations with
the capacity to pull off both raids, and then to those manned by the same
person at the time of each incident. “We had a very good idea he was our man,”
says Gentile. “Of all the people I talked with, he was the only one I gave
target warnings to [the equivalent of the Miranda warnings police give when
they make an arrest]. “He says he leaned on MacDougall “pretty hard.”

MEET CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT

Taking Gentile’s advice, MacDougall contacted an Ocala attorney, John Green
Jr. When they first met, MacDougall recalls, “he said, ‘Well, John, tell me
about Captain Midnight.’ And I reached out my hand and said, ‘Well, here,
that’s me.'”

Green advised him that he had a 70-percent chance of winning the case. If
convicted, he faced a $100,000 fine and/or one year in jail. But MacDougall
decided to enter a plea of guilty. “There were two reasons,” he said. “I
could release my guilt, plead guilty, and get it over with, do the right thing.
That kept panging at me: do the right thing. But the other side, the
activist, kept saying, ‘Stand up for your rights.’ My idealism and my activism
were combating my conservative upbringing and my conservative political
leanings. They were battling back and forth, and I was at my wits’ end. I
didn’t know what to do.”

MacDougall also worried about going before the grand jury and trying to lie
his way out of the charge. “I would not have wanted to take a midemeanor and
make it a felony by committing perjury,” he says. In the end, the determining
factor was money. Green advised his client that going to trial could take 6 to
12 months and cost $30,000 to $40,000. “During that time,” MacDougall says, “I
couldn’t have said anything, and I would have been bombarded by the press. It
would have been a nightmare.”

Fighting and then losing the case was always a possibility, and MacDougall
conjured up nightmares of what that might entail. “This was a federal
penitentiary they could have sent me to,” he said. “The concept just didn’t
register, to be sitting eating lunch with the other convicts in striped
uniforms, and a guy says, ‘Hey, what are you in for?” And I say, ‘Oh, I
operated a trnsmitter without a license.’ I couldn’t take the risk.”

FUN EDUCATION

By the time he went to the federal court on July 22 and went through the
arrest procedure, which included being photographed and fingerprinted,
MacDougall’s curiosity was back in full force. “If I hadn’t been directly
involved, it probably would have been a fun educational experience,” he says.
“You can’t just plead guilty to a crime. It’s hours and hours of discussion,
and you have to prove to the prosecutor, and also the judge, that you are
guilty. Then, you have to prove you weren’t coerced into making the statement,
and that you have knowledge of your rights.” MacDougall says officials at both
the July 22 hearing and the sentencing, on August 26, were surprisingly
cordial. He speaks of smiles, handshakes from marshals, and understanding from
U.S. Magistrate Howard T. Snyder, who fined him $5,000 and placed him on one
year’s probation. “I’m glad to see that the legal system does work,” he says.

Meanwhile, although convicted in court, MacDougall had become a hero to many
dish owners and satellite TV dealers. A group calling itself the Captain
Midnight Grassroots Coalition had formed and was selling bumper stickers,
T-shirts, visors, and sweat bands to raise money for MacDougall’s legal costs.
Said Donald Cochran, spokesman for the coalition: “While there are those who
consider Captain Midnight a criminal for his unauthorized transmissions, there
is another group made up of home satellite dish owners, small business people,
and rebels, who support his actions as a non-violent and non-destructive
protest in the best American tradition.”

THE RIGHT REASONS

MacDougall says he has had no direct involvement with the coalition, but he
adds, “I would like to see my own industry support me in this. Even though I
may have done more harm than good, as some people think, I did it for the right
reasons.”

Central Florida Teleport owner Eagan, on the other hand, says that local
opinion in Ocala and surrounding Marion County has gotten “silly.” When the
coalition presented MacDougall with its first donation, a check for $500, in
September, a crowd gathered outside his office, and drivers of passing cars and
pickup trucks honked their horns. Says Eagan, “There’s a group of people here
who think that John MacDougall is a wonderful man and a great hero who has done
wonderful things for them. But to me, that has not been placed in the
perspective of the world view or even the regional view. Ninety-nine and nine
tenths [percent] of the people don’t agree.”

Eagan says the only positive thing to come out of the incident was that
MacDougall was in the home dish business and so there was at least a reason for
him to have done it. “If it had been some crackpot who did it just for the
hell of it, or an employee being vindictive, then the corporate community would
have been more upset. This way they can say, ‘We’re not the target, HBO was.'”

Still, the FCC is stepping up security. It has moved to require that by the
end of 1987 every radio and television transmitter must use an electronic name
tag whenever it is on the air. Each satellite uplink station would leave a
unique, unchangeable electronic signature whenever it was used. Also, a bill
is being drafted in Congress that would raise the penalty for satellite
interference to a $250,000 fine and/or 10 years in jail.

SCRAMBLING A REALITY

HBO’s Levy says that now that scrambling is a reality, he believes consumers
are dropping their emotional resistance to it. “We were the first ones to
scramble,” he says. “We got the arrows in the back and we were the ones to get
jammed. We’re over the first hurdle. HBO wants its products in every home in
America. We are attempting to increase our business through home dish owners.
We’re calling for the marketplace to set the price. It wouldn’t make sense for
HBO to stifle its growth.

MacDougall says he never contested the right of HBO and other programmers to
make a profit from their programs, nor did he object to their right to protect
those profits by scrambling signals. “My real concern is that the free and
competitive marketplace be allowed to operate for the benefit of the American
people,” he says. Now, he believes that the last line of Captain Midnight’s
message [Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!] was misunderstood and got him into a
lot of trouble. “It was a bad choice of words on my part,” he says. “I was
just trying to tell them: “Look before you leap. Don’t follow HBO as the
leader.'”

It was, he says, the act of a frustrated individual who was trying to get his
point across to people who didn’t seem to listen. He hopes no one will try to
imitate what he did: “The message is now out; there’s no reason to do it
again.”

MacDougall was born in Elmhurst, Illinois, just outside Chicago. His mother,
Thelma is a homemaker, and his father, Robert, was a successful building
contractor, who retired when MacDougall was 9. The youngest of three brothers
and one sister, MacDougall moved to Florida with his family shortly after his
father’s retirement at the age of 47. MacDougall speaks often of his father.
Although his entire family supported him after the HBO incident, he says, “My
father is of the old school, a very staunch conservative: the law is the law,
and it should never be broken.”

WAS IT WORTH IT?

MacDougall says he doesn’t know now if playing Captain Midnight was worth it
all: “I might be able to better answer that in a couple of months.” He intends
to write a book about the incident and plans to continue holding on with his
satellite TV business in Ocala. He says that like many small businessmen, he
didn’t start off with enough money, although he did turn a profit in his first
year. “I’m losing money now and a good businessman doesn’t lose money,” he
admits. “I didn’t buy expensive food. I bought cheap gas for my car. I cut
everything I could and I’m still losing. Now, I can barely plan a month ahead
because of the volatile changes in the business. You never know what’s going
to happen the next day.”

MacDougall believes in himself, although he says he’s not a great salesman.
He lost his job at the Central Florida Teleport before he was revealed as
Captain Midnight, because People’s Choice went off the air. But all the
publicity has resulted in more repair business from dish owners, and he says
manufacturers return his calls quicker now. “There’s a certain pride that goes
into my systems,” he says. “I sell a part of myself with each system.”

For all his public declarations of regret, there is also an undeniable pride
in having pulled off the notorious HBO raid. “Did I know it would work?” asks
Captain Midnight.

“DEFINITELY!”

Article about Captain Midnight and the takeover of HBO

This Article was downloaded from the Unet by Dr. Strangelove. If anyone
knows anything more about Captain Midnight, let me know; I would like to
find this guy.
I can be contacted on the Matrix, 415-922-2008

Subject: HBO gets Hacked:: We Interrupt This Program … for a Viewer Protest.
From: the tty of Geoffrey S. Goodfellow
To: videotech@SEISMO.CSS.GOV, telecom@XX.LCS.MIT.EDU
Cc: neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA, shadow@AIM.RUTGERS.EDU

NEW YORK (AP) – A video hacker calling himself ”Captain Midnight”
startled cable television viewers from Maine to the Plains early
Sunday when he interrupted a movie on Home Box Office with a printed
message protesting HBO’s scrambling of its satellite-to-earth TV
signals.
”It’s a criminal, willful interference of a government-licensed
satellite broadcast,” fumed David Pritchard, an HBO vice president,
who said the cable system had received sabotage threats in recent
months.
Pritchard said HBO planned to report the incident to the Federal
Communications Commission.
”It’s kind of like terrorism of the airwaves,” said Greg Mahany,
who was watching in Middletown, Ohio, when the message interrupted
”The Falcon and The Snowman.”
The message, printed in white letters on a color-bar test pattern
background, read: ”Goodevening HBO from Captain Midnight. $12.95 a
month? No way! (Showtime-Movie Channel Beware.)”
Mahany said that at first the picture flipped back and forth between
the message and the movie, making it seem like ”HBO was trying to
get its signal back. … It looked like a fight for control of the
microwave beam.”
The message appeared at 12:30 a.m., Eastern time, and remained on
the air about five minutes. It was seen in the eastern two-thirds of
the nation, which accounts for more than half of HBO’s 14.6 million
subscribing households.
Pritchard said the hacker, apparently with the use of a satellite
dish and a powerful transmitter, effectively replaced HBO’s signal
with his own.
For some reason – possibly because Captain Midnight’s signal was
better-timed or more powerful – HBO’s satellite received the hacker’s
signal instead of HBO’s and beamed it down to HBO’s earth relay
stations.
Sunday’s intrusion was immediately noticed at HBO’s communications
center in Hauppauge, N.Y., but it was not clear whether the hacker
ended his own message or was forced off by HBO.
Pritchard said HBO would have no comment on that. ”We have
implemented some technical remedies, and we’re pursuing others,” he
said. ”This represents a clear danger to every satellite user.”
Pritchard said action like Sunday morning’s had been threatened in
letters to HBO and in magazines read by dish owners.
”We’d been threatened for the last four or five months with
something like this if we didn’t reconsider our plan to scramble,”
he said. ”They said they’d do something. They didn’t say what.”
The HBO cable signal is scrambled to prevent reception in homes
wired for cable television but not equipped with an HBO converter.
Until earlier this year, satellite dish owners were able to intercept
the unscrambled signal HBO bounces off satellites to the earth
stations that relay the signal via cable.
In January, however, HBO began scrambling all its satellite-to-earth
signals. HBO told dish owners who had been watching for free they
would have to buy a descrambler for $395 and pay $12.95 a month.
Another leading pay cable service, Showtime, announced plans for a
similar system.
Pritchard said about 6,000 dish owners put down the cash for the
decoder and signed up for HBO or its sister service, Cinemax. But the
proposal has been unpopular with others.
”They say things like, ‘The airwaves are free,’ and ‘They (HBO) are
using government satellites that our taxes pay for,”’ Pritchard
said.
Pritchard said HBO’s programs are its property, and it leases space
from privately owned satellites.

Date: Sun, 27 Apr 1986 22:39 MDT
From: “Frank J. Wancho”
To: “the tty of Geoffrey S. Goodfellow”
Cc: neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA, […]
Subject: HBO gets Hacked:: We Interrupt This Program … for a Viewer Protest.

Until earlier this year, satellite dish owners were able to
intercept the unscrambled signal HBO bounces off satellites to the
earth stations that relay the signal via cable.

It is interesting to note that while protective “alledgedly” and similar
words are freely sprinkled in newsprint, the writer of the above chose
“intercept” over “receive”. The word “intercept” implies “theft”, a
criminal act. That “intercept” was unmodified and not a quote implies the
allegation was accepted as fact proven in court. Is this indeed the case,
or simply the viewpoint held by the programming services? If the latter,
then it was inappropriate and perhaps biased to use “intercept”.

Just asking…

–Frank

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 86 07:37:13 pst
From: Neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA
Subject: Ball’s contribution on Polaris and SDI (from Dave Parnas)
To: RISKS@SRI-CSL.ARPA

Dave Parnas is now on his way to Australia for almost two months, so
please don’t expect him to reply. But on his way out, he sent me this
*–* Qmodem Capture File 06/05/86 20:27:54 *–*
justified display of civil disobedience. I live in Pittsburgh, which has a
(pathetic) cable company to which I subscribe, so I am not an aggrieved dish
owner, but I sympathize with them. Why? Because cable program providers MUST
factor in ONLY wired-in subscribers when signing contracts to buy
programming (or else they are idiots) so the fringe viewers with discs (most
often far from any cable company) have little or nothing to do with their
financial situations. HBO’s decision to scramble its signal to force people
who cost HBO, or cable systems, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to “hook up” is
ridiculous; at least disc owners should be given a hefty credit for their
investment before having to buy a descrambler and pay monthly rates. Not
being a lawyer, it also seems that scambling makes a mockery of the 1934
Communications Act, which prevents encoded transmissions over public
channels.

This sort of problem may prevent another medium — videodiscs — from
fulfilling their promise of providing vast aounts of cheap information.
Consider: a 12″ videodisc can store up to 108,000 frames of information.
What information? In the case of NASA, lots of planetary images. In the case
of the National Gallery of Art, 1645 art works and a couple of movies. But
what if a videodisc publisher wanted to provide a comprehensive collection
of ALL major works of western art, 65 TIMES the number of art works provides
on the NGA disc. As it stands, this would be impossible because each
provider of art images would want a royalty for each disk (to pay costs,
perhaps 1 cent per work per copy. But this would mean a $10,800 royalty PER
DISC for all suppliers, which would make the disc completely unsalable,
making a comprehensive history of art expert system all but impossible to
develop because the costs could not be amortized. (If you think this is
outlandish, consider that the Metropolitan Museum in New York wanted to
charge the US Marine Corps $50 for the LOAN of a photograph of an artifact
that the Marines wanted to include in their Bicentennial exhibit in
Washington DC in 1976. The Marines, to their credit, declined to pay.)

Some new paradigm will have to be worked out before mega-media will be
acceptable both to information providers and consumers.

Date: Mon, 28 Apr 86 21:51:15 edt
From: [email protected] (Mike McLaughlin)
To: risks@sri-csl.ARPA
Subject: HBO — Hacked Briefly Overnight

Overpowering a transmitter is essentially trivial. If HBO was scrambling
its uplink, Captain Midnight’s missive must have been similarly scrambled.
Perhaps HBO’s scramble algorithm is also trivial. Of course, if the uplink
is in the clear, Captain Midnight merely needed brute force. Anyone know
how or where the signal is scrambled? Or whether an HBO receiver set to
unscramble will pass an in-the-clear signal? I realize that facts may set
limits to the discussion. Regrettable.

——————————

Satellite transponders used by the cable TV industry to relay programs are
“bent pipes”, that is, they simply repeat whatever they hear. The M/A-Com
scrambler equipment is all on the ground. However, the descramblers will
switch to “pass through” mode if a nonscrambled signal is received.
Therefore, when Captain Midnite sent his unencoded signal, the descramblers
simply passed the signal straight through to the various cable systems.

The transmitter power available on a satellite is very limited (5-10 watts).
Even with a very large receiver dish, the raw carrier-to-noise ratio is far
too low for acceptable picture quality if a linear modulation scheme (such
as VSB AM, used for ordinary TV broadcasting) were used. Therefore,
satellite TV transmissions are instead sent as wideband FM in a 40 MHz
bandwidth. Since the baseband video signal is only 5 MHz wide, this results
in a fairly large “FM improvement ratio” and a pronounced “capture” effect.
Full receiver capture occurs at about a 10 dB S/N ratio, and this figure is
essentially the same whether the “noise” is in fact thermal noise or another
uplink signal. So for the purposes of fully overriding another uplink your
signal must be about 10 dB stronger (10 times the power).

The latest transponders are much more sensitive than those on the earliest
C-band domestic satellites launched 12 years ago. Most of the 6 Ghz High
Power Amplifiers (HPAs) in use at uplink stations are therefore capable of
several kilowatts of RF output, but are actually operated at only several
[Khundred watts. So Captain Midnite could have easily captured the HBO uplink
if he had access to a “standard” uplink station (capable of several
kilowatts into a 10 meter dish) or equivalent.

I happened to turn on HBO in my Dayton, Ohio hotel room at about 1AM, half
an hour after the incident occurred, and noticed lots of “sparklies” (FM
noise) in the picture. At the time I grumbled something about having to pay
$90/night for a hotel that couldn’t even keep their dish pointed at the
satellite, but I now suspect that the pirate was still on the air but that
HBO had responded by cranking up the wick on their own transmitter. Because
they were unable to run 10 dB above the pirate’s power level, they were
unable to fully recapture the transponder, hence the sparklies. (Can anyone
else confirm seeing this, proving that my hotel wasn’t in fact at fault?)

Even though each transponder has a bandwidth of 40 MHz, it is separated by
only 20 MHz from its neighbors. Alternating RF polarization is used to
reduce “crosstalk” below the FM capture level. Polarization “diversity”
isn’t perfect, though, so it is possible in such a “power war” that the
adjacent transponders could be interfered with, requiring *their* uplinks
to compensate, which would in turn require *their* neighbors to do the same,
and so on. So Captain Midnite could cause quite a bit of trouble for
all the users of the satellite, not just HBO.

Captain Midnite could have been anywhere within the Continental US, Southern
Canada, Northern Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, etc. In the worst case, it
could be practically impossible to locate him. If he is caught, it will be
either because he shoots off his mouth, arouses suspicion among his
neighbors (or fellow workers, if a commercial uplink station), or transmits
something (distinctive character generator fonts, etc) that gives him away.
Only the NSA spooksats would be capable of locating him from his
transmissions alone, and I suspect even they would require much on-air time
to pinpoint the location accurately enough to begin an aerial search.

Phil Karn

——————————

Date: Wed, 30 Apr 86 18:11:02 EDT
From: Dan Franklin
To: risks@sri-csl.arpa
Subject: HBO hacking

Re the interception of HBO’s uplink by “Captain Midnight”: I understand
that the video scrambling is indeed pretty simple, consisting of reversing
black and white on some “randomly-chosen” scan lines. It’s easy to build
a box that will undo this scrambling. The sound is much harder; it uses
DES. In the accounts I read, Captain Midnight just put up a still video
picture with no sound, which would make sense assuming that the uplink is
encoded; he could easily encode his video but not his sound.

Nicholas Spies seems to feel that the scrambling was purely an act of
malice against individuals with dishes. Not so; according to a recent
issue of Forbes, when HBO started scrambling, a number of CABLE TV
OPERATORS they’d never heard of signed up for the decoders! If cable TV
operators can charge their customers for HBO, why should they get it for free?

I had some other comments about what the FCC Communications Act really
says and what “public” means, but this is getting awfully far from Risks…
“Telecom” and “poli-sci” are no doubt more appropriate.

Dan Franklin (dan@bbn.com)

[Thanks for the restraint. However, the relevance of the HBO case to
RISKS is clear. Various risks exist — but have been customarily
ignored: easy free reception and spoofing without scrambling,
video spoofing and denial of service even with scrambling. PGN]

Pay TV Decoder Plans

With most of the cable companies

scrambling their signals on most all

new and some old channels I thought I’d

update and revise my first version

(1.0) of Pay Tv Decoder Plans.

Due to different scrambling systems,

you might find it neccesary to change

the range and values of the variable

capacitator. I’ve also added a

wiring diagram to help you with design-

ing the circut. If you have any

questions just leave a message on the

board listed at the end of the article.

(Tom) Hackerman

///PAY TV DECODER PLANS///

Version 2.0

///MATERIALS REQUIRED:///

1 – Radio Shack mini-box ( #270-235)

1 – 1/4 watt resistor, 2.2k-2.4k ohm

(RS #271-1325)

1 – 75pf-100pf variable capacitor

(Very hard to find)

2 – F61a chassis-type coaxial

connectors (RS #278-212)

12″ – No. 12 solid copper wire

12″ – RG59 coaxial cable

///INSTRUCTIONS///

1. Bare a length of No. 12 gauge solid

copper wire and twist around a 3/8″

nail or rod to form a coil of 9 turns.

Elongate coil to a length of 1 1/2″

inches and form right angle bends on

each end.

2. Solder the varible capacitor to

the coil. It doesn’t matter where you

solder it, it still does the same job.

The best place for it is in the center

with the adjustment screw facing upward

Note: When it comes time to place coil

in box, the coil must be insulated from

grounding. This can be done by crazy-

glueing a piece of rubber to the bottom

of the box, and securing the coil to it.

3. Tap coil at points 2 1/2 turns from

ends of coil and solder to coaxial

chassis connectors, bringing tap leads

through holes in chassis box. Use as

little wire as possible.

4. Solder resistor to center of coil

and ground other end of resistor to

chassis box, using solder lug and small

screw.

Diagram: Your circut and design should

look something like this:

—————————-

! !

! !

! C !

! ———–F16a

G 2.2k O — !

N—-\/\/\— Vc !

D 1/4w I — !

! ———–F16a

! L !

! !

! !

—————————-

5. Drill a 1/2″ diameter hold in mini-

box cover to permit adjustment of the

variable capacitor from the outside.

Inspect the device for defects in

workmanship and place cover on mini-

box. Tighten securely.

6. Place device in line with existing

cable on either side of the coverter

box and connect to television set with

the short piece of RG59 coaxial cable.

Set television set to HBO channel.

7. Using a plastic screwdriver (non-

metallic), adjust the varible capacitor

until picture tunes in. Sit back,

relax, and enjoy!!!

Have fun…

(Tom) Hackerman

O S U N Y B B S

(914) 725 – 4060

_ _

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