Here & Now
On November 22, 1987, two TV stations in Chicago had their broadcast signals hijacked by someone wearing a Max Headroom mask. In the years since, Redditors have played an integral role in getting to the bottom of this case. Who dunnit? Why? How? We dig into the story.
Thanks to u/gregorburns for this week's artwork. It's called "The Max Headroom Incident." You can find more of his work HERE .
-A Reddit post with some theories on the Max Headroom Incident
-Bowie Poag's Reddit post with his original "J and K" theory
-Chris Knittel and Alex Pasternak's article "The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack."
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This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Ben Brock Johnson: Amory, do you remember the year 1987?
Amory Sivertson: No. No Ben, I do not. I was not alive.
Amory: You win in the contest of who is older, congratulations.
Ben: Thank you very much. So we need to get a feel for the year 1987.
Amory: Yeah. Specifically the night of November 22nd, 1987 in Chicago. Where, during primetime television hours, something truly weird happened. A mysterious occurrence that’s never been explained.
Ben: If you were in Chicago and flipping through TV channels in 1987, you would find a range of stuff.
(a montage of TV commercials plays)
On Superior Court ... and then he started to unzip my jeans… Nutritious foods like Campbell’s Soup can help keep your resistance up.
Amory: Fear mongering from Court TV, and Cambpell’s soup!
Ben: Maybe some of those loveable hella-creepy claymation California raisins!
(raisin commercial plays)
Raisin commercial: Oooh I heard it through the grapevine!
Amory: Specifically, on the night of Sunday November 22nd, 1987, a one-season show called Buck James, the doctor who wears scrubs and cowboy boots.
Buck James: “I don’t give a damn about politics is what I don’t give a damn about.” Dennis Weaver is Buck James, Sunday on ABC.
(Ben recites the commercial at the same time)
Ben: Dennis Weaver is Buck James, Sunday on ABC
Amory: Over on PBS you had some serious masterpiece theater nerdery happening. Gotta love that public media baby.
(PBS horns play)
Ben: But if you were one of the thousands of Chicago residents watching WGN Channel 9’s 9 O’Clock News, you were about to hear and see something really unusual.
Amory: It happened during the sportscast. The announcer was talking about the Chicago Bears game.
WGN Announcer: Then they scored again at the Lion’s 31. Wayne Larabie called it like this on WGN radio…
Ben: Everything’s going along normally, and then right in the middle of the announcer’s description of the game, while the football newsreel played…
WGN Announcer: Then the defense, which hadn’t put up a sack in 12 quarters finally di---
Amory: The screen goes black, for a long time.
(weird distorted sounds play)
Ben: There’s this weird, twisted scene that pops up on the television. It’s someone in a mask, an oversized head with sunglasses, square chin, white teeth, blond slicked back hair. This person is wearing a suit and tie. And behind them there’s a corrugated piece of metal? Maybe? Twirling in this hypnotic way.
Amory: The character jerks and shudders and seems to laugh. And then the scene cuts out again and the screen goes black. When the sportscaster comes back on, he is bewildered.
WGN Announcer: Well if you’re wondering what’s happened, so am I. Actually the computer that we have running our news from time to time took off and went wild. So what we’re going to do is start over from the top with the Bears and tell you once again about the 30-10 victory they had…
Ben: It was not a computer glitch. It was a hostile takeover. Something called a broadcast signal intrusion. In this case people hijacked the airwaves of a major American television station. And it wasn’t over.
Amory: That was just the first of two signal intrusions that night, 32 years ago to the day, that we are publishing this episode. It was weird. It was bold. Federal investigators were called. There were news reports. It was a fiasco. And it still has never been solved.
Ben: And spoiler, this is not one we have solved either, yet. No one has. And because it’s this intersection of hacker culture, subversive art, technology, and real life, this story still resonates with people even after three decades.
Amory: Also, maybe you can help us find some answers. Maybe.
Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson
Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson
Ben: And you’re listening to Endless Thread, the show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem of online communities called Reddit.
Amory: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. Today’s episode…
Ben and Amory: To the Max...
The Max Headroom Intro: The Max Headroom-m-m story. So! Sit back. Relax. And Enjoy.
Amory: So this thing that happened — this broadcast intrusion — it really happened twice. And the second time, two hours later, a little after 11p.m., it was even weirder.
Ben: Which, appropriate, because it happens during the BBC science fiction show, Dr. Who. Right in the middle of the PBS affiliate station WTTW’s broadcast of the episode, “Horror of Fang Rock.”
(a clip from "Horror of Fang Rock" plays)
Amory: And it starts out the same way. The screen switches to someone in a strange mask, lunging at the camera while a piece of corrugated metal spins behind them.
Ben: But then the person in the mask, starts talking. And heads up, they’re almost impossible to understand.
Hacker in the mask: That does it. He’s a frickin’ nerd. That’s right, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky. Frickin’ liberal.
Amory: People who have studied this video for hours say that the first part of this bit says, among other things, “That does it. He’s a frickin’ nerd. That’s right, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky, frickin’ liberal.”
Ben: Is he a frickin’ liberal?
Chuck Swirsky: Well, I mean, that that depends on who you talk to, I mean...
Ben: Meet Chuck Swirsky. The one person whose name was yelled out by the masked people hijacking television broadcasts in Chicago on November 22nd, 1987.
Amory: Today, Chuck is the play-by-play radio announcer for the Chicago Bulls. Back in 1987, his job was also in sports.
Chuck: Well I was sports director at WGN Radio in Chicago, doing college basketball for DePaul University, the Cubs Radio Network, Bears Radio Network, Northwestern Football. You know, in the city, obviously, the sports passion is very, very strong.
Amory: Do you remember anything else about that day?
Chuck: I can't even tell you, in all candor, what the weather was like November 22nd, 1987. I'm sure, because it's Chicago, it was cold and it either snowed or it was gray and it was, you know, maybe sleet like we're experiencing now. I thought it was just a normal Sunday, a normal Bears Sunday until about nine to ten o'clock. And then my world rocked big time.
Ben: Chuck says he doesn’t usually take his work home with him. So, as an employee of WGN, he wasn’t watching his company’s TV station when, during the nine o’clock news, the broadcast was hijacked.
Chuck: And then all of a sudden I started getting calls. Like, a lot of calls. I mean, a ridiculous amount of calls: “Hey, did you just hear..." or "Did you see?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Yeah, what about Max Headroom?”
“Well, I mean, he mentioned you!”
I said, “What’d he say?”
“He said you were a freakin' liberal.”
I went, “What!? Come on.” I thought it was a practical joke!
Ben: The person who was taking over the TV broadcast was wearing a Max Headroom mask. Amory, you remember Max Headroom, yeah?
Amory: Still not born yet, Ben. But at the time, Chuck didn't know him all that well either.
Chuck: I really didn't understand this whole Max Headroom phenomenon. I mean, I really couldn't relate to him. I had no connection.
Ben: So Max Headroom was this fictional character described by his creators as an artificial intelligence. He was played by a real person in a ton of makeup to make him look sort of computer generated. And he also sounded computer generated. His voice would like pitch shift and stutter randomly.
Max Headroom: This is M-M-Max Headroom.
Amory: He looked like a news program talking head, that floated in this computer generated cube. And Max was a satire. Created to poke fun at the stereotypical cocky, western, white male newscaster. Here’s tech writer and editor Alex Pasternack on the super-meta plot that was created around Max Headroom the character.
Alex Pasternack: Basically, Max was a journalist working at a television station owned by a large corporation. And he had discovered some dark secret about the corporation and was in the process of reporting on it for his employer, owned by this corporation, when he is assassinated. And his brain is preserved by his hacker friend. The brain is uploaded to the network. And Max Headroom became this digital character who would drop into television broadcasts.
(Max Headroom plays)
Max Headroom: This is the M-M-M-M-Max Headroom Show and I am — cocky swagger — Max Headroom. And it’s great to have you all back with me again. I’m sorry, there’s a guy who keeps moving around over there. Alright alright well I wish he’d just damn well keep still! I’m tryna do a show here!
Ben: In his original inception in 1984, Max was pretty alternative. His character was that of a hacked-together, robotic artificial intelligence that existed to subvert the mainstream. Alex Pasternack says both Max and the incident itself connected to the rise of hacker culture.
Alex Pasternak: Hackers were starting to gain notoriety as as criminals. They were being prosecuted by the government. But they'd also been born in this world of hobbyists and pranksters. And Max, I think, embodied the hacker who's a protester. And who has a certain agenda and is fighting a good cause. That’s part of what makes this whole thing even more cyberpunk when the signal intrusion has happened.
Amory: Without getting too deep into Max Headroom’s origins, this was a bizarre example of life imitating art — a hacker dropping into a real TV broadcast, posing as a character, who was a fictional hacker himself.
Ben: Max Headroom was also this character that imagined and made fun of a dystopian future where corrupt mega corporations used computers to replace journalists.
Amory: It really is time for me to look for a new job.
Ben: Well, that was over 30 years ago and it still hasn’t happened, Amory, so I think we’re safe for now. Point is, this weird, stuttering, virtual newscaster poked fun at newscasters and normies.
Amory: And no offense to Chuck or other sportscasters here, Chuck was, and maybe is, a bit of a normie?
Chuck: There wasn't anyone in the circle of friends of mine that said, “Hey, Max Headroom!” And so when this occurred, it completely caught me off guard. I was shocked.
Amory: Did you ever fear for your safety?
Chuck: Honestly, I did. I had a couple of friends tell me, you know, Swirsk, that's my nickname, you know, you better seek protection. Whoever did this had to be pretty smart and sharp to do what he did. But why he signaled [sic] out me, I have no idea.
Ben: Whether or not "Swirsk" understood the point of Max Headroom, his world really was flipped upside down.
Chuck: After that clip played, I received calls from radio, television stations, not only in Chicago, but across the United States. And once it reached the Associated Press and United Press International, the two wire services at the time, then the whole thing started to mushroom.
(A montage of news clips play)
“Last night, someone broke into regular programming here on Channel 9."... "The pirates interrupted WGN and WTTW programming with a show of their own!"... "Even in a medium that is no stranger to bizarre moments, these were truly bizarre."... "Reporter: 'So what did you think about the whole thing?' Kid: 'Very, very funny.'"
Amory: Funny to a kid maybe, because the second intrusion got real weird. After calling out Chuck Swirsky, the person in the Max Headroom mask, who appeared to be a man, also pulled down his pants revealing his bare ass. And then a woman showed up, also in a mask, to spank him repeatedly with a fly swatter.
The Masked Hacker: Ohhh do it ahhh!
Ben: The person starts screaming what sounds like “oohhhhhh oh do it.” This was not funny to Chuck Swirsky. Because that, combined with the person in the video calling him out specifically for being a “frickin' liberal,” led to some questions he wasn’t prepared to answer.
Chuck: People started asking me, “Well, so in the upcoming election, who are you who are you taking in 1988?” You know, “What are your views on this, this and this?” You know, I just want to be a guy, you know, just a guy on the street.
Amory: Whatever his feelings about politics, Chuck had been thrust into the spotlight in a broadcast signal hack. One of a short list of similar takeovers that seemed to be growing in number in the mid 1980s, looked at by some as a new form of terrorism. One that, even with its silliness and spanking, was about to get very serious.
News Broadcaster: The incidents are now under investigation by the FCC and the FBI.
Ben: FCC spokesperson Phil Bradford went on TV at the time and said this.
Phil Bradford: It is very serious and we’d like to inform anybody who is involved in this type of thing that it is serious and that we will take every step that we can to find out who is doing it. And once we have determined that, we will make sure that the full extent of the law is carried out.
Amory: The maximum penalty? A $100,000 fine and prison time.
Ben: More on the FCC’s investigation and questions about whether they did take every step to find the perpetrators... in a minute.
Ben: So, when some masked marauders took over 90 seconds of TV time in the major market of Chicago in 1987 it looked, and felt more than anything, like a prank. At least to some observers. But to other people, it was a huge deal.
Amory: Broadcast intrusions aren’t new. But doing it with a purpose, historically, has had political implications.
Ben: In 1966, a radio broadcast intrusion in a Soviet Union city claimed nuclear war had broken out with the United States.
Amory: In 1977, a UK television station delivered a message, supposedly from outer space, about a disaster that would impact the human race.
(The Alien Clip Plays)
Aliens: We come to warn you of the destiny of your race.
Amory: In 1986, HBO was in the process of changing its delivery technology. People used to be able to get Home Box Office for free by putting up a satellite dish. But HBO was gonna make it so that everyone had to pay a fee to get that stuff. Which angered a guy name John McDougal, whose satellite dish business relied on the old way. McDougal hacked the delivery system and put up a message for viewers that said...
"Good evening HBO from Captain Midnight. $12.95 a month? No way! Showtime, Movie Channel, beware!"
Ben: McDougal got turned in by a guy who overheard him bragging about his stunt.
Amory: A year later, thousands of randy viewers headed to the Playboy satellite network only to be met with a message from the Bible.
Amory: Specifically, the books of Exodus and Matthew.
Religious message: Thus sayeth the Lord thy God. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Ben: Years later, an uplink engineer employed by the Christian Broadcasting Network would be charged with the crime of trying to interrupt TV smut with religious morals.
Ben: All of these intrusions led to a feeling that there was an outbreak of hostile broadcast takeovers. But the Max Headroom incident was different because it was a successful interruption that included real video content — not just text overlays. It was a daring move.
Amory: Which we learned, in part, from one of the only deep dive pieces of journalism produced about this incident, from a reporter named Chris.
Chris Knittel: Hello. My name is Chris Knittel. I'm a documentary producer, journalist, writer.
Amory: Chris is usually doing documentary work about pretty heavy stuff — dog fighting, gun running, drug addiction. Max Headroom was a little outside of his usual wheelhouse. But when he stumbled upon YouTube videos of the broadcast interruption at two in the morning one night in 2012, he became obsessed.
Chris: I was instantly sort of captured by this, by the imagery and the sounds and sort of spooked and kind of bewildered with it.
Ben: Chris set out to do an investigative piece. One of the areas Chris focused on was the tech needed to pull off a stunt like this. In part, because once you understand the tools, you start to narrow the list of suspects. And what you need, simply put, is to become a broadcaster yourself.
Amory: This is what investigators focused on, too. Once the FCC got involved, there were two offices tackling the intrusion: the office in Washington D.C. and the regional office in Chicago. Chris talked to a guy named Michael Marcus, an investigator on the case from the D.C. office, and Marcus had a lot to say on the topic. Including the fact that, when he started trying to figure out who was behind the intrusion, he ran into some problems.
Chris: According to him, his hands were tied behind his back. He said that he did have what he thought was a credible idea of where they broadcasted [sic] their transmission, where they sent their signal out. But someone who he would not name, specifically who he worked with — I think his boss — did not want him to go and pursue that, did not want him knocking on doors.
Amory: Why? Why not knock on doors?
Chris: That I don't know.
Ben: Chris did have a theory though. One that connected to this idea that if you follow the tech, you can find your broadcast intrusion perps. WGN, the first station that had its airwaves hacked, might have had some disgruntled employees.
Chris: One area I didn't explore fully was there was a lot of layoffs in the months prior to the incident. To me, I feel like it's most likely someone who is a former broadcast employee in whatever capacity. But there's no hard evidence out there.
Amory: Part of the reason for a lack of evidence might be this tension that apparently existed between the FCC’s national and regional offices.
Ben: Basically, local cops versus national cops. Bigfooting stuff. And apparently, this may have influenced the effectiveness of the Headroom investigation. Because even when the FCC office in D.C. got a tip about a company where the hackers may have pre-taped the video, the Chicago people refused to go and question them.
Ben: We asked a former FCC investigator about this. His name is Jim Higgins, and he worked on all of the 1980s broadcast intrusions cases.
Ben: Did that contribute to the challenges with the case?
Jim Higgins: Yeah, well, I'm not sure I would call it tension. I mean, the folks here in D.C. were, you know, had some ideas about how this should be done. And the Chicago guys, you know, had some ideas and but they were the ones that are on the front lines. So they took some advice, but they didn't take all of the advice. You know, I wasn't so involved in that piece.
Amory: What about the idea that if you follow the technology involved you’ll find the perpetrators?
Ben: Can you explain some of this in the simplest five-year-old terms of like how something like this happens? Is it someone getting close enough to the transmitter to broadcast their own signal that overwhelms the other signal to the transmitter?
Jim: Actually, you just you just explained it probably in the simplest way. If your power is quite a bit stronger than the desired signal, then you'll override the desired signal and your signal will go out instead. And we discussed, you know, what kind of equipment it probably would have taken to do that. So we assumed someone who had access to the means, but we're not sure of the motive.
Ben: People have mentioned this idea that, at least at one of the stations, there had recently been some layoffs and the suggestion that there may have been a motive therein?
Jim: That's actually, now that you've mentioned that, that might have been something that I remember now hearing from our Chicago guys.
Ben: So, even though the FCC’s investigation never discovered the identity of the perpetrators, the evidence was pointing towards an inside job. And whoever was behind it, this was definitely a big deal at the time. Laws were being changed in the 1980s to make intrusions like this a felony. There were growing concerns about terrorism and extremism more generally. And at the time, broadcast intrusions felt like they could become a part of that. Not just hackers taking the piss out of the mainstream — more serious issues. There’s not a lot of hard evidence anywhere here, which is why it’s never been solved. It’s also why this story continues to come back to life periodically. It captures the minds of people who want answers, including people on Reddit.
Amory: And you will not be shocked to learn that Reddit did move the ball forward a bit. In part by focusing on the bizarre contents of the video itself. Which includes a parody of a Coke commercial, with the perpetrator throwing a Pepsi can…
(Max Headroom Hacker video plays)
Max Headroom Hacker: Catch the wave!
Ben: Also, a rendition of the theme song for the animated show Clutch Cargo…
Max Headroom Hacker: (sings) Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Amory: And then there’s the direct jab at WGN, which, by the way, stands for World’s Greatest Newspaper…
Max Headroom Hacker: Oh I just made a giant masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds.
Ben: And this moment, when the Max Headroom hacker pulls out a glove and says, we think, “My brother is wearing the other one. But it’s dirty.”
Max Headroom Hacker: My brother is wearing the other one, but it’s dirty!
Amory: And that brings us to one of the theories about the hack that has popped up over the years — that it was pulled off by these two brothers, known only to the public as J and K.
Ben: This theory was introduced, on Reddit, by a guy named Bowie Poag. And Chris Knittel, the reporter, says this post is a big part of what has kept this story going decades after it happened.
Chris: To me, his story on Reddit just sort of a kind of supercharged the mystery, you know, and kind of inspired people to go down their own rabbit holes.
Amory: Bowie, this Redditor, eventually updated his Reddit post. Saying that he no longer considered J and K, the two brothers, suspects, this was due to new evidence he found in his own investigation — new evidence he won’t share publicly. He declined to record an interview with us. But he did answer a few of our questions via email, and so did his crime-solving partner — this guy named Rick Klein. Rick is the chief curator of an online museum of classic Chicago television, and he has a copy of the Max Headroom broadcast intrusion — the highest quality copy, he claims.
Ben: It was actually Chris’ reporting that brought Rick and Bowie together. They both grew up in Chicago and witnessed the hack live when they were 13 years old. And they were both inspired by this hacker prankster subculture. They’ve since joined forces in an amateur investigation of the incident. They set up a tip line, they interviewed people who were around at the time, they did their own analysis of the video, but still…
Amory: Still no answer! Though they are the keepers of some secrets — things they say they just won’t go into. Like, who specifically they’ve spoken to and who they think the Max Headroom hackers were.
Ben: And if, right now, you are calling bull----, like this all feels a little suspicious, you’re not alone. A lot of this story feels suspicious, which made us suspicious. So we asked Rick and Bowie if they were involved. They swore up and down that they were not. Fine.
Amory: Next stop on the ol’ suspicion train? How about Chuck Swirsky, the sportscaster?
Ben: You didn't do it, right?
Chuck: Absolutely not. I don't even — honestly, it takes me assistance to move pictures to a photo album on my computer. I mean, seriously, I'm shocked that it hasn't been solved.
Ben: Okay, what about Chris, who wrote thousands of words on this story? As a reporter who got interested decades after the thing happened, it’s pretty safe to say he was not directly involved. But what is his take on who was responsible?
Amory: When you started reporting on this, did you set out to solve it?
Chris: I don't know the answer to that because I don't know if I want it to be solved.
Chris: I don't know.
Ben: What! Why not?
Chris: You know, sometimes when you meet your heroes, you're disappointed.
Ben: Are they your heroes?
Chris: You know, I wouldn't rank them as my heroes. But, you know, it's folklore. It's a myth. You know, it's an urban legend. It's culture jamming, you know, sometimes I think that things like this are better left unsolved.
Ben: Wow this feels like a direct challenge.
Amory: I know! Mission accepted.
Ben: Mission failed.
Amory: So far.
Ben: The statute of limitations is long past. So it’s a little odd that the perpetrators haven’t come forward, for bragging rights at the very least. But it is possible that the legend of the Max Headroom signal intrusion is more important, and more powerful, without an unmasking. Maybe it’s more useful as a reminder to hackers that culture jamming is possible.
Chris: Bursting into the nightly news, into everyone's favorite program late at night and just invade their brain and turn their night upside down for just a brief moment. You know, culture jamming.
Amory: Even though it's just basically like gibberish, there's no clear message that we're supposed to take away from it?
Chris: How do you know it's gibberish?
Amory: Well, that's true.
Chris: I mean, for all we know, it's it's all it. It appears to be gibberish, but it could be a coded message.
Ben: And the myth continues. As well as the mystery.
Chris: I can say without a doubt the individuals involved are tight lipped. And they must have some sort of code that they decided to live by.
Ben: We gotta crack the pact, Amory.
Chris: Or do we?
Ben: Chris, you’ve been no help, thank you very much.
Chris: Who knows what could be unleashed?
Amory: Chris feels like, in a way, this story is an aspirational legend for hackers of the day and hackers now. It’s a dare — a way to say, “See what you can do? You can stop people in the middle of the rat race. Make the audience look up from their dead end jobs, snap out of their TV-watching zombie state.” You can culture jam.
Ben: Editor Alex Pasternack points out that there’s some irony here, in the idea of Max Headroom being part of culture jamming. By 1987, Max Headroom the brand had gone through its own transformation. From a subversive cyberpunk movie character, to a music video jockey with his own TV show in the US.
Alex: By that point, he had become a television pitchman. He was selling Coca-Cola. And there were these really funny ads.
(Coke commercial plays)
Coke Commercial: Catch it if you can, can. Catch the wave. Coke!
Alex: I think I saw him being interviewed on Letterman a lot because my parents watched Letterman.
David Letterman: I tell you what, Max, could you describe yourself for us? Just tell the folks a little bit about what you are, what you do.
Max Headroom: I suppose I see myself as witty! Urbane! Highly-ly-ly talented! Talented! Talented! Hugely successful and a keen sense of style…
Alex: The signal intruders may not have had enough time to say everything they wanted to. But I think my sense is that like they were performing, they were doing something that was that was meant to be, in some ways, a work of art. And in effect, a protest of the corporate media environment. You know, I think that there's there's something poetic about that. There's a certain delectability in the mystery of all of it.
Amory: In the decades since the incident, the mainstream has moved on. Forgotten about Max Headroom. Coca-Cola has new pitch people. The Max TV show is long gone. But the subversives remember. Headroom echos in the masked hacktivist group Anonymous, in the modern re-imaginings of Guy Fawkes, in the graphic novel "V for Vendetta." So in a way, the Chicago intrusion was a more pure and lasting version of Max Headroom. maybe precisely because the perpetrators have never been caught.
Ben: Amory, what is the equivalent of this incident in 2019 or 2020? Like, is it Jack Dorsey getting his Twitter feed hacked? Is it some crazy Netflix takeover move that we haven’t even seen yet? What is it?
Amory: Maybe it’s this:
CBS News anchor: Now to this story. A search is under way for a hacker who caused panic by triggering all of Dallas's emergency sirens at the same time.
Ben: Hey, I bet Chuck Swirsky is just glad all those sirens weren’t singing his name.
Amory: You wish they were singing your name, don’t you Ben.
Ben: I mean, I’m interested. I’m interested to hear that.
Amory: You better get a LOT better at computers.
Ben: On it!
Max Headroom (singing): It’s been a great show. We’re sorry that it’s through. Goodbye is such a sad worrrrrrrrrrd. So let’s just say, adieu. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen!
David Letterman: Max Headroom!
Bonus: Interview with Bowie Poag (u/bpoag) & Rick Klein, amateur investigators of the Max Headroom incident
When and why did you decide to conduct your own investigation into the Max Headroom case?
Rick: I always wondered who it was, and once I started making contacts with various people working in local television (due to the continuing growth of and attention from my Museum) I started believing that *someone* must know something. The only question was who and whether there would be proof. The investigation such as it was didn’t really begin in earnest until Bowie and I started talking about it and sharing info and clues.
Bowie: I had some interest in the case beforehand, but I didn’t really become that deeply interested in it until I met up with Rick. This was right after the Motherboard article was published, where we had both been featured. Here’s this guy named Rick who had been working a completely different angle to mine, which I found interesting, so, we began to share notes over the next few years, and casually looking into things where we still could.
Why were the two of you well-positioned to conduct such an investigation?
Rick: Well, I think I had developed my ties to people who worked in local television of the past. I also had the best available source tape of the incident (not the copy posted on YouTube by the way). Besides this I also was able to use my Museum as a “cover” for inquiries, since I would often reach out to people who may have saved old tapes. A little bit of an advantage compared to just Joe Blow walking in off the street asking questions. As far as Bowie goes, he has advanced technical knowledge in computers and the methods and means of hacking in general. He also has a great eye for detail and can examine evidence or test theories quite well.
Bowie: I wouldn’t say we’re well-positioned, outside of the fact that Rick and I both grew up in the area, Rick has a good number of contacts with people in the local broadcasting circles in Chicago, and I still remember what the local hacking scene was like in the late 80’s. For my own part, it just seemed like a fun and interesting puzzle to work on. I like being able to throw my hat in the ring on older puzzles that might benefit from being examined with more modern approaches, and seeing what I can do with them. I remember about 10 years ago, before the whole Max thing spun up, I tried my hand at cracking “Z340”, one of the Zodiac serial killer’s last undeciphered messages. For fun, on Reddit, I took a couple days off from work to sit down and see what I could extract out of it, and actually managed to emerge something meaningful after the first day or so. (There are unusual fold lines in the letter, and none of those folds crosses through any symbol.) ..Later, around that time, the Headroom case attracted my attention, and stirred up some memories of old acquaintances I had back when I was a tween.. so, I figured I’d throw my hat in on that puzzle next.
How collaborative was it and how much did you each do individually?
Rick: Well, we had a few tips come from my “tip line”. I also had information from my continual investigating and talking to people. Bowie did a very thorough technical analysis of the videotape of the incident which yielded a major piece of information. Bowie also did research into other technical aspects of the hack which he was able to confirm with my help. We both did “in the field” reconnaissance and information gathering (if you want to call it that) where I put a little extra on the line in order to get info and evidence, but in the end it was mostly a collaborative effort. We still disagree on some things and we aren’t absolutely sure about anything – but we are very confident in what we do know. I still hold out hope for a confession or that “smoking gun” piece of evidence that removes all doubt.
Bowie: Rick has actually been working on it longer than I have, but it’s something we’ve worked on, together, since the publication of the Motherboard article, in 2013. It’s always been pretty casual. While it’s been years since we’ve clocked any serious time on it, we still talk about the case on and off every few months, or when something interesting appears in the media about it. As for the work, this involved doing things like stepping through the incident videos frame by frame, reconstructing parts of it, stripping the audio and sending it off to a lab to see if it could be cleaned up or further deciphered, interviewing people who were around at the time, things like that. There are a couple interesting discoveries that emerged from that effort. If you want an example, we used to believe that the rotating background behind Max was a sheet of corrugated metal. We no longer do; If you zoom in a bit on the background, and look closely at the black stripes, there’s sort of a repeating little dimple in it, every few inches. Our best guess was that these stripes must have come from something like a dented roll of black electrical tape. We also noticed in certain frames where the edge of the rotating background is visible, that the stripes themselves seem to extend and hang limp off the edge a little. We call these “dog ears”. So, to test out the theory that the background was something like electrical tape on cardboard rather than corrugated metal, we went out and bought a couple rolls of electrical tape, and spray-painted a large piece of cardboard white, and laid out the stripes in the same pattern. With an old camera and light source in the right position, sure enough, it seems to have the same properties as what we see in the video, dog ears and all. It looked eerily similar to the original.
You concluded that “the possibility of this having been an ‘outside job’ is basically zero … all the things which needed to have been possessed by an outside amateur or amateurs, no matter how talented, simply did not exist in the wild in 1987.” What would have needed to be “possessed” that did not exist in the wild in 1987? (please speak as technically as needed)
Rick: That’s a Bowie quote, so I will let him address it if he wants. I’ll just point out that I prefer not to speak in absolutes as much as Bowie, so I wouldn’t say the possibility is basically zero, but I would qualify it by simply stating that it is extremely unlikely. :-)
Bowie: Rick has a point about the dangers of speaking in absolutes, but, from what we’ve gathered, I’d still say it’s basically zero, even now. Among other things, Max needed to have had access to (and a deep working familiarity with) the kinds of commercial equipment required, and knowledge of the STL locations of each station.
The Dept of Justice’s default five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting the “Headroom Hacker” has long since passed. Why do you think, still, no one has come forward
Rick: Perhaps the person doesn’t want to admit it due to issues of ego, or doesn’t want to worry about other possible (non-legal) consequences for him.
Bowie: That, and privacy.. Considering Max is likely a senior citizen at this point, I would imagine not wanting to spend your retirement being hounded by the internet and the media would play into it.
We spoke to Chuck Swirsky who says he did not have any notable “enemies” and has no idea why anyone would call him a “fricken nerd” and a “fricken liberal?” Do you guys have any guesses, educated or otherwise?
Rick: From my reading of the video, Max was disparaging sportscaster Dan Roan, not Chuck Swirsky. Remember, the recording of the hack was initially planned for the WGN 9:00 Newscast. Due to a combination of technical difficulties and a WGN engineer who took evasive action, the hack was stopped in its tracks. Max then “regrouped” and used the same tape to hijack WTTW during Doctor Who. Unfortunately the WGN digs and references didn’t make much sense, but Max probably felt like he didn’t want to be beaten and switched to WTTW just because he could.
So originally planned, and as had occurred, Max broke in to WGN’s signal during Dan Roan’s sports report. Then he comments on hm and calls him (Dan) a “frickin’ nerd” and says something like “this guy thinks he’s better than Chuck Swirsky” or maybe it was “at least this guy’s better than Chuck Swirsky”. So Chuck Swirsky was used as a reference but only in comparison to Dan Roan is what I believe. Although perhaps the next line about being a liberal was directed at Swirsky. Hard to say for sure.
Bowie: I’ve always interpreted it as “Yeah, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky”, as to imply that he (Max) was the more interesting one to watch. To my knowledge, I don’t think we ever unearthed any real reason why anyone would have a problem with Chuck Swirsky. The “frickin’ liberal” comment itself is sort of telling, in that it suggests that “Max” is right-leaning, politically. I’d imagine that if Chuck were the focal point behind the signal intrusions, Max would have gone on at some length about him. Max’s mention of Chuck seems to be only done in passing. The rest just seems like a mixture of nose-thumbing and bad prop comedy.
What motivation might someone have had to criticize and call out WGN in November of 1987?
Rick: Perhaps something related to a work dispute? Who knows.
Bowie: Best guess? Some sort of ongoing work dispute. I don’t think it was a spur of the moment thing.
Why do you think the FCC has never been able to identify the people behind the Max Headroom incident, even though they were able to quickly solve other broadcast hacks around the same time (Captain Midnight, Playboy TV)?
Rick: I think the Max perpetrator hid their tracks very well, to the point that even if they were a suspect, as long as they held firm under questioning, there would be no hard evidence to move forward.
Bowie: Agreed. It reads to me like some care was taken to obscure nearly every aspect of what was sent out, so as to make it rather difficult to pull anything out of it, forensically.
What was the significance of the Headroom incident back in 1987? Why do you think people are still fascinated by the Headroom Incident in 2019?
Rick: It was just a weird little mostly humorous event of a now by-gone era of analog television. The strangeness and creepiness of it takes on more meaning as time goes by. And the fact that it’s unsolved perhaps. Also the mask.
Bowie: Yeah.. I think it boils down to people having natural desire to resolve or explain things that seem unresolved. Worse, it’s a little creepy. I don’t think it was meant to be creepy, but it came off that way, which certainly adds to it.
We contacted each of you individually for interviews, yet you responded together. Why?
Rick: We agree to coordinate media responses so as to not blindside the other and to also make sure we don’t give too much away or attract unwanted attention.
Bowie: Like I mentioned above, It’s been years since Rick and I have logged any real time against the case, but people still contact us pretty regularly about it. Most people are cool about it, simply curious about it and want to learn more, but then there are people who want to make a name for themselves by either trying to exploit us, or people we’ve talked to about the case. Whenever something comes up, Rick and I run everything by each other to help protect against that. It’s been that way for years.
Declining our invitation for an interview is harmless enough. Doing so for “a lot of reasons,” as you wrote, “most of which [you’d] prefer not to talk about” sounds suspicious, naturally. What are your reasons for declining that you ARE willing to share?
Rick: Bowie can address this better probably but another reason was possible negative reaction from the hacking community, such as doxing, etc. We’d rather not stir the pot.
Bowie: Yup. And for me, another big part of it is to avoid putting pressure on ourselves, and putting pressure on the people we’ve spoken with in the past. It’s helpful to show that we take others’ privacy seriously, if we expect to have people come forward with what they know.
You also wrote, “there are a few subjects we can’t really go into at this point in time.” Which subjects are those (even if you can’t speak about them in detail)?
Rick: Who we believe Max may have been and how they may have done it.
Bowie: Mainly those, yes. That and who we’ve spoken with, and to what length.
Why are there subjects you can’t go into at this point in time?
Bowie: We’re just trying to do what’s right by people we’ve talked to. We’ve always tried to do that, which usually translates to remaining silent.
Will there ever be a time when you will be able to speak more freely about these subjects?
Bowie: Will there ever be a time? God, I hope so.. hah.. there’s a million stories in the big city..It looks like 1980’s Chicago was no exception.
Are you withholding information that could potentially lead to the identification of the perpetrators of the Headroom incident?
Bowie: Yes, I’d imagine so.. and we’ve made that clear before on Reddit.. we just can’t do that if it would be at someone else’s expense. It wouldn’t be right to do that, particularly to people who don’t wish to put themselves in the spotlight.
Are you connected to the perpetrators of the Headroom incident in any way?
Bowie: Ha.. Flattered, but no.
Rick: Nope, honestly we’re not.
No offense, but you guys are being very cagey! Why shouldn’t people suspect you?
Rick: We’re just trying to protect our story, and what we know, until the time is right, that’s all.
Bowie: Agreed... I’m sure our being overly cautious comes across as suspicious to some, unfortunately. As for why people shouldn’t suspect us…well, there’s the obvious.. Rick and I didn’t know each other when we were kids, but we were both barely 13 in November of 1987, and I was living way out in the suburbs when the Headroom incidents happened. I had a budding beginners-level interest in hacking, sure, but nothing anywhere near that kind of level.
Anything else you want to say?
Bowie: Just a thank you for the opportunity, and for being understanding and fair. That’s all we really ask of anybody. We’re just a couple of guys who spent their spare time looking at the case, not some shadowy secret cabal sitting around grinning, rubbing our hands together. Some people don’t get that, which is why we don’t often grant interviews. I think most people get it, and respect that we’re trying to do the right thing here. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but for now, there are still people who’ve simply chosen privacy over publicity, and we have to honor that.
Reddit is good at solving mysteries. Why haven’t Redditors been able to solve this one?
Bowie: Given enough time and effort, they might. Beyond that, there’s a fair number of people who don’t even want it solved; they’d prefer it to be something like a landmark, which is understandable.
Bowie, how has your life changed since posting about Max Headroom?
Bowie: For a while, it was really, really interesting, digging into the forensics and piecing things together as best we’ve been able to, but digging around loses its shine after a while. I’m also glad to have made a new friend in Rick along the way, too. I’ve moved on to other puzzles in the time since. BOC Aquarius is my new fascination (Just search for Boards of Canada, ‘Aquarius’ and give it a listen, you’ll see.) I’ve been feeling the urge to take a few days off of work to try and solve that one, too. ?
Do you have any regrets related to Max Headroom?
Bowie: Many. I think I underestimated how interested the public would be in what I had to share with regard to the Reddit AMA. What I thought would just something interesting to post one afternoon ended up becoming a commitment to update, and maintain for years. The trolling, the accusations, things like that I wasn’t really prepared for, either.
Rick, when and why did you found the Museum of Classic Chicago Television?
Rick: Ever since I was in early high school, I enjoyed finding old videotapes of broadcasts recorded off of TV. They felt like the closest thing to time-travelling for me. When I grew up, and where I grew up, no one I knew had a videotape recorder. (well maybe one Aunt that we didn’t see often – it certainly wasn’t something I had access to) So once things aired, that was it. Stations would change affiliations, or roll out some new graphics package or a logo change and the old stuff would be all but forgotten.
When I first put in an old tape and saw something I had completely forgotten about – UNTIL I saw it again – I was amazed and fascinated by that feeling, and it was probably a bit addictive as well. There was also the factor of the rarity of this footage, at least from the time period I grew up and am most interested in (late-seventies, early-eighties) – because as mentioned not too many people had video recorders back then, especially in the 70s – so each tape found of an uninterrupted recording feels like a lost gem.
Combine this with an even further pre-existing interest / attraction to things like garbage picking (such as when a neighbor down the street threw a whole ton of records out next to his garbage cans), collecting in general, flea markets and Maxwell street, it all came together.
Once I started sharing my odd passion on YouTube in 2006, things increased exponentially from there.
I incorporated as a non-profit Museum starting in 2009 to help with any possible copyright issues. It has helped. I just want to share this material and I believe original broadcast off-the-air recordings are unique artifacts that should be given some exception to normal copyright law. While not always successful on this front, I think my museum has certainly helped raise the profile and awareness of these recordings and appreciation of them and has also inspired many other YouTube pages of similar material as well as other sites such as The Oddity Archive which examine broadcast ephemera, among other things.
Rick, what type of presence does Max Headroom have in the museum?
Rick: For a long time it was the most viewed clip on the main site as well as the YouTube page. (still in the top 5 at least I believe) It fits right in since besides more normal elements we also like to preserve moments that are even more ephemeral – technical difficulties, special bulletins, on screen crawls, weather alerts, stuff that only happened once – so this definitely fits that category.
What about the Playboy TV hack or Captain Midnight
Rick: The Playboy and Captain Midnight things were satellite hacks and so didn’t interest me as much since it wasn’t strictly on a local channel. That said, I would enjoy finding an off-air recording of the cable stations that the two hacks appeared on, so the thing could be preserved and seen in their entirety. It’s been a while since I looked these up on YouTube – it’s possible someone already posted Captain Midnight but maybe not as a first generation recording or posted the complete event without editing including from before and after the event portions of the movie (Falcon and the Snowman!)
Rick, I believe you were one of — if not the — original person to upload footage of the Headroom hack to YouTube. Is that correct?
Rick: Yep, that was one of the first things I uploaded to YouTube, although not the first thing, in 2006. I was definitely the first to post it to YouTube. There was an earlier webpage on a separate site that someone did which talked about the hack and had a lower quality .RAM file (RealPlayer format) of a recording of it, so I wasn’t the first to put it *online*, just the first on YouTube.
Where did the footage you uploaded come from and why did you upload it?
Rick: In finding so many tapes over the years it was inevitable that I would come across multiple copies of it (the WTTW hack, not the WGN one) from multiple sources, since Doctor Who had enough of a nerdy obsessive fanbase to warrant recording it and saving the tapes. And I have found multiple sources. The best though, and one which we (Bowie and I) used for a lot of our analysis was an original VHS recording in SP (2 hour) mode with no reception problems – so basically as good as you can find on a consumer format, excerpt perhaps if someone recorded it in Beta I on Betamax, but Beta was on its way out in 1987 so that is less likely.
The very first tape I had of it was “borrowed” (kept and never returned) from a friend in 8th Grade whose father was a fan of Doctor Who and would record the show every week. I asked my friend to snag that tape from his Dad to make sure he didn’t record over it the next week. So this was just a few days after the incident occurred, which I originally heard about from news reports. Coincidentally, the hack and reviewing the tape of the show eventually led me to start watching Doctor Who and I became a big fan.
Rick, you opened up a Max Headroom tip line at some point. Did you get a lot of tips? Any good ones? Any funny ones? If there are any worth sharing, please do!
Rick: Yes. We had narrowed the range of focus before that, but the anonymous tip line e-mail was the thing that really sparked it all off.
Other than that, we got some other theories, some well defended and thought out, but nothing that survived our scrutiny after a few days at most of looking into.
From a surge of girls wearing red lipstick to "Blank Space" blasting in every car, bar, and gym, there is no doubt that we've all got a touch of T-Swift fever. What can we say? We're entranced by her deliciously catchy songs, her glamorous style, and...ummm...her armpits? Yes, armpits. An entire subreddit has been devoted to the leggy blonde's least enchanting parts, and we scoured through it, so you don't have to. Here's what we learned.
Taylor (gasp!) wears deodorant.
Which, hopefully, is edible.
Her pits are as entrancing as her dancing.
...So much so that they may induce bouts of delusion.
This 2006 photo is proof that Taylor has always had armpits!
In fact, they may be older than time itself.
Even her pits are expressive.
...But they leave their fans nearly speechless.
Her pits are super deep.
And you too could sink into Tay-Pit obsession, even if you come here as a joke.
Her pits are empowered.
And they inspire her fans to pursue their own "musical aspirations."
These magical pits really make you think, man.
They can even give your life purpose.
23 Hair Products People On Reddit Are Freaking Out About
If there's anything the internet has taught me, it's that your hair can severely benefit from a little research. I used to blindly pick my shampoo and conditioner off the drugstore shelf. Then, I started looking into hair products that Reddit users swear by, and I was astounded that with the right technique I could blow dry my hair every day and it still wouldn't feel like straw. When a moisturizing masque or finishing spray has a few dozen up-votes, you know it's something worth trying.
The coolest thing about Reddit is that you don't need to be anyone special to post on the forum. Everyday consumers and real people, like you and me, are free to give their opinions on the best (and the worst) products available. They also do so without any kind of sponsorship or bias, so you know you're actually getting a genuine review.
Reddit has countless boards for any and every type of interest, but the beauty boards are definitely the most useful when it comes to researching hair care tips. That's why I took a little time to poke around some discussions in search of the hair products people on Reddit are freaking out over.
Chances are, if you've experienced severe acne at any point in your life, you've definitely heard of — and have probably used — something called benzoyl peroxide. The scary-sounding yet widely beloved skin-care ingredient fights acne and inflammation while unclogging pores and exfoliating. Needless to say, it’s kind of a BFD — dermatologists love it; people who have acne love it even more. But benzoyl peroxide, like a lot of other life-changing skin-care ingredients, can wreak absolute havoc when used without caution.
Common side effects of benzoyl peroxide include flakiness, irritation, and, apparently... eyebrow bleaching? At least that’s what one Reddit user experienced when she realized her dark brown eyebrows are, well, not brown anymore.
A user by the moniker combination|cysticacne|us posted a before-and-after (er, after-and-before) shot in the SkincareAddiction subReddit and claimed a benzoyl peroxide product turned her thick, dark eyebrows into blonde ones. "Benzoyl peroxide can most definitely bleach your eyebrows. Learn from my mistakes," she titled the post, which shows her newly lightened eyebrows on the left.
She clarified [in a comment (https://www.reddit.com/r/SkincareAddiction/comments/cpea2q/psa_benzoyl_peroxide_can_most_definitely_bleach/ewos96o/) that the benzoyl peroxide she uses is a cream she applies every morning, though she didn't write whether or not she'd been applying it to her brows. She said that she barely noticed the cream had affected the color of her brows until it was too late.
"I started to look at past pictures, and that’s when I noticed just how stark the difference is," she wrote. "Still will be using the cream, but definitely will make a point to avoid my eyebrows. RIP brows."
Though people tend to get confused about these bleach-like effects caused by benzoyl peroxide, no one really ought to be. "It’s all in the name," says Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist with practices in Branford and Hamden, Connecticut. "Benzoyl peroxide, like other peroxides, is a powerful bleaching agent," she tells Allure. "I have seen it happen with some patients, hair lightening isn’t that common, because you have to use a lot of it and frequently for this to occur."
Morgan Rabach, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says that eyebrow lightening is more likely to occur with some products more than others. "Bleaching of the eyebrows is more likely with cream preparations where the product stays on the skin, as compared to soaps which are washed off." She recommends using those types of peroxides sparingly and as a spot treatment.
The Highs and Lows of Being a Frank Ocean Superfan
On the Frank Ocean subreddit, a sub-section of the online discussion website Reddit, you will find that a murdered gorilla-turned-meme and a reclusive singer-songwriter are held equally dear in the hearts of many users.
Existing as a digital island, the community maintains distinct customs derived from deep Ocean knowledge. The so-called "sh*t posts" and conspiracies can quickly alter your sense of humor—as they did mine—in a matter of weeks. Here, "big if true" and "confirmed" supply users with daily servings of tongue-in-cheek irony, the balloon emoji ranks above all others, and no mystery matters more than the Booty Club. What the rest of the world might label esoteric is instead common language. Mock headlines ("TRIGGERED") and real results (the discovery of the warehouse used in Ocean's video stream) exist side by side.
When Ocean went another week without dropping his album, one person created a thread that appeared to promise real information. It read, "I've done some pretty intense research." A click-through led to a list of locations where disappointed fans could jump from dangerous heights, the Capitol Records building and the Cincinnati Zoo (or "the mecca," thanks to the late legend Harambe) among them. At one point, members requested that "subscribers" be changed to "crying boys" (the motion was approved).
The sub, as it's affectionately referred to, is far more than a steady stream of jokes. It quadrupled its numbers between the end of July and the middle of August, and started to receive the credit it deserves within that span. From Los Angeles to London, media companies rush to publish stories first. Recent weeks have proven it's this subreddit that has a lock on any news regarding Frank Ocean. There's no stopping this band of faithful followers.
Behind any successful sub are a handful of caring moderators. In short, mods exist to foster a sense of community and minimize chaos, handling design for their domain and righting a sub's moral compass if it ever pivots south. I reached out to some of the /r/FrankOcean mods in hopes of better understanding the online gathering ground. We discussed the responsibilities of its leaders, the ups and downs of Frank fandom, and why Frank inspires such fervor.
When Nik (Eneyek), Bill (008Fox), and I begin our Skype call on August 4, Friday is fast-approaching. An album release feels all but guaranteed if the New York Times is to be believed. The two young men—seeing each other for the first time—are visibly excited to further strengthen a connection forged behind screens.
How sure are we that this project is coming out in the next 24 hours?
Nik: I don’t know, I’m staying positive. I’ll never not be positive on the sub, but, there are a lot of things to suggest it might not be tonight. For instance, he doesn’t even look like he’s that close to being done. He’s just painting the boxes. I think iTunes refreshes at 11 p.m. [EST] and that’s only, like, two-and-a-half hours away. I’ve been disappointed...several times.
Bill: [sits down with bourbon in hand] Cheers.
The real reason we’re all here is because of Frank. Where did your fandom begin?
N: Somebody I know who’s really into Odd Future showed me Frank Ocean, right as channel ORANGE dropped. He showed me “Forrest Gump.” I was really digging it but I wasn’t into hip-hop or R&B at all at the time, then channel ORANGE really grew on me. I have this thing where I like to go back through an artist’s discography, so I went back to Nostalgia Ultra and it was just really strong emotion. I felt like he was saying a lot of things that needed to be said but in a very discreet way. It was refreshing.
B: I started with Odd Future. A friend put me onto the “Yonkers” video, then I saw the “She” video and I was like, “Wait, who’s this guy featured?” Then I got introduced to Nostalgia, Ultra and I heard “Novacane.” That blew my mind. I heard it on the radio here in Detroit, and I remember feeling like it was a radio song by a writer’s favorite writer. It was down the rabbit hole from that point forward.
What does Frank Ocean mean to you guys in 2016? What led you to mod the subreddit?
B: If I could break the subreddit down to a metaphor… If the sub is a recording studio, Nik is Frank, and I’m probably Om’Mas... or the janitor [Laughs].
N: [Laughs] That’s not true.
B: Nik always has really good ideas, he’s innovative. He does all the design stuff. I do a lot of the cleanup. I’m like a camp counselor, more or less. I get all of the shit posts out of there. It’s good to be united, though.
N: When I was first really getting into Frank Ocean’s music, I noticed there wasn’t really a community that was that strong. And I don’t really have many friends here who like the same music I do. I wanted to have somewhere I could go, and I feel like a lot of people are in that boat. They want to get excited with other people and share theories...or post shit posts [Laughs]. There was a sub for Frank, it had like 300 subscribers. It had some of the worst design I had seen on a subreddit. I’m really into design, learning code, so I asked the mod if I could take over and he said, “Go for it.” The community’s grown a lot since then. I really like bringing people together over a really sick artist.
Have you guys ever met up in real life with someone you first saw online?
N: I haven’t yet. Bill and I have been talking for awhile. We chat a lot with a couple guys, one made this big fan album thing. We were chatting with him for awhile. I recognize names now, which is really cool, just people who post a lot—Bill, I’m sure you do too. I don’t think we’ve reached the point of real-life meet-ups but I’m sure it will happen.
B: Similar to Nik, I do recognize a username here and there. We have some very devoted fans right now.
N: Survivors [Laughs]. One thing we should probably talk about, we got contacted by one of the Reddit admins, someone in charge of all the Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions. All of the celebrity sessions. And Frank Ocean’s team apparently reached out to Reddit and was going to give us exclusive content and stuff to post on our sub, then it never happened. We’ve actually never talked about that before. We never told the sub.
B: Yep, that would have been the biggest L.
N: [Laughs] It was a big personal L, we didn’t want the sub to experience that. And our contact isn’t working with Reddit anymore.
The sub has experienced quite a few peaks and valleys. What are some memories that stand out?
B: Last July was a difficult time [Laughs].
N: Yeah, definitely the end of last July. We hadn’t really received any Ls yet. That was our first big L. And these fuckers, on July 31, 2015, they updated the website. The code in [Frank’s site] began to change. Then nothing happened. But it started getting fun. This year we started having fun with it, just people sharing jokes in a much bigger community. It’s a lot easier to take these losses together. It’s not as bad. I got pretty pumped when Frank’s team contacted us though, that might be the worst loss.
What thoughts entered your minds on the night of July 31, 2016, as the clock struck midnight?
N: Man, I was just… You get to that point where you lose enough and you’re just like, “Shit.” I was worried the community was going to fall apart. I don’t know if you’ve seen Kanye’s sub but it’s just awful. For the Frank community to go down the gutter…We’ve worked pretty hard to build this community. I was mostly disappointed. It’s so funny though, because I was like, “I’m gonna wake up tomorrow, I’m gonna check the Reddit. Nothing’s gonna happen.” I must have gone to sleep like ten minutes before he updated the website and there the video stream was.
You guys get to see into the window of passionate fandom while you participate. What has moderating the forum taught you guys about music fans, and Frank’s fans in particular?
N: Bill, you got this.
B: One of the things I noticed off the bat was passion, even before I was a moderator. Frank’s fan base might not be the largest in the world, but it’s a very devoted cult following. People who enjoy him love his music. That’s something I see in our subreddit that I really don’t see elsewhere. That devotion, and the attention to detail. This guy has no social media. He’s done a handful of interviews on YouTube. There’s not that much known about this guy. So the people who care about him, they pay attention to what he’s doing and where he’s seen. They read a lot into what he does. We’re back in the 1960s again, when we see an album cover for The Beatles’ Abbey Road. We see John, Paul, George, and Ringo lined up, and we think Paul’s dead because of the way he’s walking. Crazy theoretical shit like that. That’s on our subreddit all the time because of Frank’s mystery, his solitude.
N: The dedication is insane. Like Bill’s saying, with a lot of artists you get constant reassurance. They’re constantly in the news or there’s always something to keep you interested. With Frank, it’s just his music, which means a lot. Take Kanye. I love Kanye, but he does so much. If you love Frank it’s because of his music, which is pretty cool. I notice a lot of positivity in Frank’s fan base too. The fact that he’s gay or bisexual also tends to mean that everyone who likes Frank is accepting of that. We have pretty liberal-minded people in the fan base. We’ll just watch negativity get shut down so quickly, which is great.
That's definitely a huge plus I've noticed too. That civility can be pretty rare in an online forum. Do you have faith Frank will live up to the hype?
N: I’m terrified I’m going to be disappointed. Absolutely terrified. Especially us, because we’re moderating the subreddit. It’s not like we can take a break and not check for a week. We gotta make sure things are alright. When you’ve devoted this much time to something, you really don’t want to be let down. Unless it’s like To Pimp a Butterfly and wins 13 Grammys, I think someone will be disappointed. A lot of people are saying anything is good right now because it’s been so long.
B: It’s crazy. I’ve had dreams about this album. Sometimes very pleasant, sometimes disappointing. These are very vivid dreams. The album had 17 tracks in my last dream, like channel ORANGE.
N: [Laughs] This guy’s probably thinking, “These kids are so obsessed.”
Could you give people a glimpse into the operation of the sub?
N: I originally hopped on the sub because I wanted to redesign it. I thought that’s what a lot of moderating was, especially on a smaller sub. The last few days, though, Bill and I will actually get requests for people to be banned. We’ll get requests for things to be removed, stuff like that. You’re at this fork in the road where you can piss of the community by doing this, or you can piss them off more by doing that. One of them is the right thing to do, maybe. It’s a lot of trying to put out the fire, not fuel it. I’m a mod for the Donald Glover subreddit too. Before I joined that sub, it was something the community got really mad at. Everyone started bashing the mods. It’s tough because you don’t want to tear apart these communities by accident.
B: We really just try to uphold the community and make things quality. I think a lot of Frank Ocean fans, like him, are perfectionists. Nik is. I am. When I’m doing mod work, I’m locked in that shit.
N: Yeah, I want to be perfect.
B: You want to have it look good. You also never know who’s watching. I always wonder if He, our lord and savior Frank, has ever visited our sub.
N: He definitely knows. He’s too internet-savvy not to.
B: I wonder what his feedback would be.
N: That’s definitely something I’m conscious of too. I want this internet community to represent the best of Frank’s fan base. If he was checking out our sub, I wouldn’t want him to be disappointed
Nor did Nik want to be disappointed that Friday. Of course, Boys Don't Cry did not drop. Apple Music unpinned its enthusiastic "FRANK" tweet and Ocean disappeared from his visual art piece, leaving 14 boxes and hundreds of thousands of people in the dark. What felt like a safe bet slowly crept toward limbo.
Undeterred for several days, the sub entertained itself. Wild theories sprang from its deepest recesses. A Boys Do Cry mixtape surfaced. (Its chief creator was soon after banned for bragging about it.) "Plots" to kidnap Ocean's little brother spawned coverage from major news outlets, and a series of hopeful evenings (mostly Sunday and Thursday nights) piqued interest. The deafening hype wave became cyclical.
Things got interesting when Malay—Frank's friend and a key creator behind channel ORANGE—agreed to host an AMA. The online event revealed next to nothing about the project but did provide plenty of memorable moments.
The mod responsible for Malay's participation was a fresh face. Andres (OBJesus/Dad) signed on to help Nik and Bill when the subscriber base ballooned. During his first night, users orchestrated Pupper Takeover, a half-joke coupe that saw users flood the sub with puppy pictures. The shenanigans were to be expected: /r/FrankOcean experienced unprecedented growth.
"Page views for the subreddit went from 196,000 in June to 981,000-plus in July to an insane 6,803,993 views in the month of August, and we're only halfway through!" Andres tells us, incredulous. "The page views on August 5, the supposed due date, were more than a 10-month span between September and June combined."
Such a rush gave way to chaos, but the sub soon stabilized. Andres didn't let his day job stop him from strengthening the community, and the Malay AMA provided a much-needed morale boost. Folks began referring to themselves as OB's son after the session proved successful.
"I learned of Malay's Snapchat from the sub," he remembers. "I sent him a short message saying I was a fan of Frank. I told him there is an insane amount of love and support for Frank and him. He replied saying he will check it out. That alone made me lose my shit.
"The day after I became a mod, a post said Malay had gone through comments. He was impressed by the passion. Then he asked how he could personally connect with us. I was very skeptical. The user was unable to provide proof it was Malay's snap, and he didn't save the message. So I was convinced it was fake. I messaged Malay again, he said it was him and that he was interested in connecting with us. So that blew me away."
The session launched or bolstered a number of theories and customs. Nik changed the upvote button to the balloon emoji after Malay repeatedly used it. As of this writing, the 16,600 sub members are no longer subscribers, or "crying boys," but "in the booty club," another reference to Malay's cryptic answers. It was a lighthearted, positive afternoon for a sub then trying its best not to drown in negativity.
Fast forward a week or two and an endless losing streak had snapped. A visual album gave the crying boys (and girls) their first real W. Days later, wins multiplied in a big way when Blonde and its accompanying magazine were released over the weekend. We reached out to the mods one more time to document their reactions. Rest assured, they were joyous.
Nik had been hanging with his girlfriend, also a big fan, on Endless eve. One eye never left the stream, and his diligence paid off.
"If this was the album I'd be so happy," he admitted at the time. "Maybe it is, but I'm pretty sure it's not. SPOILED AS FUCK. TWO VERSIONS, TWWWOOOOO VERSIONS."
Two versions indeed. Bill responded to the second album by relaxing, as one should after a long search. "Feeling blessed fam," he exclaimed. "Got the bottle of Rosé, some fruit bars, sitting in the backyard."
Andres found himself on a date when Blonde struck the internet. The newly minted mod—a fan ever since a YouTube safari led him to the 2011 video for "Swim Good"—wasted no time, frantically starting a new thread to confirm the album's release. His situational post was met by a surge of support from sub users, who collectively confirmed that the long-awaited moment had come.
"I am feeling great man, amazing day yesterday," he tells us the next morning. "Date went alright, nothing special, I did not have very good coverage where I was. I was in line waiting at a local pizza place [Laughs]. I got a tweet notification along the lines of "Listen to Frank's new album Blonde" and I was just like what the f*ck..."
Call it a happy ending.
Pigeons & Planes is all about music discovery, supporting new artists, and delivering the best music curation online and IRL. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
The Best Damage-Repairing Olaplex Dupes Money Can Buy, According to Redditors
Olalex is without a doubt the gold standard when it comes to damage-reversing haircare products, used for years in salons by professional colorists to repair and prevent chemical breakage. While Olaplex is now available to the public and reasonably priced, it’s certainly not the only product in its class. Whether you’re looking for a cheaper Olaplex dupe to align with your budget or have given the line (there are now several products ranging from No. 1 to No. 7 in the range) a try with no visible results (but do be patient, because yes, bond-building treatmentsdo take some time to work), there are plenty of other protein-rich formulas on the market to help you get your compromised strands back to a better place.
So who should be using bond builder, anyway? Well, quite frankly, if you’re reading this, you probably do. If you’ve ever wanted to go lighter (or god forbid, platinum blonde), you probably already know that failing to protect your strands can lead to spongy, cotton-candy like locks, “chemical bangs,” or falling out altogether. Whether from bleach or abusing the heat tools a little too often, if you’re suffering from major breakage, using a protein-rich bond builder can be a game-changer in the journey to repairing the damage — and well, keeping the hair you have left on your head.
And trust me, I do feel your pain — after a trip to an inexperienced colorist left me with an ombre’ job gone horribly wrong, I tried to “correct” that mishap myself with a bleach and toner kit from Sally’s. You can imagine how that turned out, and if you can’t, spoiler alert: it wasn’t good, and I lost half of my hair in the process trying to attempt a DIY color correction. With the help of a ton of TLC and patience, my hair finally came back to life.
Naturally, I’ve tried quite a few conditioners, leave-ins and bond builders (it’s all about that moisture/protein balance, y’all) during my long road to recovery, but after I recently attempted to bleach my own hair again (hey, the salons have been closed in LA and I had no choice!), I decided to do some extra research to track down the best Olaplex alternatives according to in-the-know Redditors who’ve also tried it all. Scroll through below to find the best miracle-worker bond builders similar to Olapex products to help heal your compromised hair.
Our mission at STYLECASTER is to bring style to the people, and we only feature products we think you’ll love as much as we do. Please note that if you purchase something by clicking on a link within this story, we may receive a small commission of the sale.
Courtesy of pH Plex.
pH Plex Protect & Repair Set
Comparable to Olaplex’s No.1 and No.2, this two-pack contains step one (a patented damage-prevention lightener mix-in) and step 2 (a damage repairing post-bleach treatment that combats breakage at the molecular level). “I found the salon exclusivity of some products tiresome and personally switched to pH Plex, which was developed explicitly for home use with a professional attitude,” according to one Redditor.
Courtesy of OGX.
OGX Restoring + Bonding Plex Bonding Cream Leave-in Treatment
This under $10 dupe for Olaplex’s No.3 and No.4 treatments has an impressive almost-five-star rating and is backed by a whopping 2,400+ glowing reviews. Of course, it’s also gotten some love on Reddit, too. “My hair was very dry and straw-like after over-processing it and after a shower, I ran about two pumps of this through my hair and made it feel a million times better. The next shower, my hair didn’t even need conditioner!,” says one enthusiastic fan of the brand.
Courtesy of Redken.
Redken Bonding Conditioner For Damaged Hair
If you’re looking for a deep conditioning but bond rebuilding hair mask, this formula is on par with Olaplex’s No.5 treatment. There’s a reason it’s one of Amazon’s best-sellers—at just $12 you get a two-in-one formula that softens and repairs.
Courtesy of Ion.
Ion Absolute Perfection Color Sealer
Similar to Olaplex’s No.2 and No.3, this preventative powder bond protector can be mixed into bleach to help neutralize its damaging effects and used after to help repair. According to one Redditor,”I’ll never bleach without it again honestly, because it prevents damage unbelievably for the price. I figured for the price it was too good to be true so I almost didn’t give it a chance, but I’m glad I did.”
Courtesy of Schwarzkopf.
Schwarzkopf Blonde Me Keratin Restore Bonding Mask
This affordable keratin-infused mask is a great hydrating treatment to leave on for an hour or so because it delivers protein to rebuild weak bonds, but also replenishes moisture levels to avoid over-drying from too much protein (most of the Olaplex line does either one or the other). “It works! Results most noticeable once [the] hair is dry,” says one fan of this mask.
Courtesy of K18.
K18 Molecular Repair Hair Mask
This recco actually comes from my boss — a bright icy blonde with long, (somehow) extremely healthy-looking hair. “This product actually works better than Olaplex, and it’s cheaper,” she says.
- 90210 outfits 90s
- Banking officer salary
- Trumpet ascii
- Electrician ornaments
- Honda 250r specs
- Weber genesis clearance
- Attune scent
- Grado mono cartridge
That afternoon, I watched Huffman make a sales pitch to a group of executives from a New York advertising agency. Like many platforms, Reddit has struggled to convert its huge audience into a stable revenue stream, and its representatives spend a lot of time trying to convince potential advertisers that Reddit is not hot garbage. Huffman sat at the head of a long table, facing a dozen men and women in suits. The “snarky, libertarian” ethos of early Reddit, he said, “mostly came from me as a twenty-one-year-old. I’ve since grown out of that, to the relief of everyone.” The executives nodded and chuckled. “We had a lot of baggage,” he continued. “We let the story get away from us. And now we’re trying to get our shit together.”
Later, Huffman told me that getting Reddit’s shit together would require continual intervention. “I don’t think I’m going to leave the office one Friday and go, ‘Mission accomplished—we fixed the Internet,’ ” he said. “Every day, you keep visiting different parts of the site, opening this random door or that random door—‘What’s it like in here? Does this feel like a shitty place to be? No, people are generally having a good time, nobody’s hatching any evil plots, nobody’s crying. O.K., great.’ And you move on to the next room.”
In January, Facebook announced that it would make news less visible in its users’ feeds. “Facebook was originally designed to connect friends and family—and it has excelled at that,” a product manager named Samidh Chakrabarti wrote on a company blog. “But as unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it’s being used in unforeseen ways with societal repercussions that were never anticipated.” It wasn’t the most effusive mea culpa in history, but by Facebook’s standards it amounted to wailing and gnashing of teeth. “We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Mark Zuckerberg told the Times. Direct pronouncements from him are so rare that even this pabulum was treated as push-alert-worthy news.
In retrospect, although Facebook denies this, it seems clear that the company was preparing for a blow that was about to land. On February 16th, the special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment against several Russian individuals and businesses, including the Internet Research Agency, a company aligned with the Kremlin. The indictment mentioned Facebook thirty-five times, and not in ways that made the platform seem like a “force for good in democracy.” According to recent reporting by the Daily Beast, the Internet Research Agency also seeded Reddit with disinformation during the 2016 election. (A group of impostors even tried to set up an A.M.A.) Last Monday, the Washington Postreported that the Senate Intelligence Committee will question Reddit executives about this; the same day, Huffman admitted that the company had “found and removed a few hundred accounts” associated with Russian propaganda. (A Reddit representative told me that the company has been coöperating with congressional investigators “for months,” although they haven’t spoken about it publicly.) As in all such disinformation campaigns, the Russians did not act alone: their messages were upvoted and repeated by thousands of unsuspecting Americans. “I believe the biggest risk we face as Americans is our own ability to discern reality from nonsense,” Huffman wrote. “I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it’s not that easy.”
Zuckerberg recently set a “personal challenge” for himself: “enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.” This seems to be a reversal for Zuckerberg, who was once a fake-news truther. Two days after the 2016 election, he said, “The idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think, is a pretty crazy idea. Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.” This was a pretty crazy idea, and Zuckerberg has been walking it back ever since. It’s obvious that what we see online affects how we think and feel. We know this in part because Facebook has done research on it. In 2012, without notice or permission, Facebook tweaked the feeds of nearly seven hundred thousand of its users, showing one group more posts containing “positive emotional content” and the other more “negative emotional content.” Two years later, Facebook declassified the experiment and published the results. Users were livid, and, after that, Facebook either stopped conducting secret experiments or stopped admitting to them. But the results of the experiment were clear: the people with happier feeds acted happier, and vice versa. The study’s authors called it “massive-scale emotional contagion.” Since then, social media has only grown in size and influence, and the persuasive tools available to advertisers, spies, politicians, and propagandists have only become sharper. During the 2016 election, a few Russian impostors affected many Americans’ beliefs and, presumably, votes. With another election coming up, most of the loopholes that the Russians exploited have not been closed, and the main loophole—the open, connected, massively contagious world of social media—might not be closable.
When I raised this issue with Huffman over dinner last summer, he said, “I go back and forth on whether Reddit is the tail or the dog. I think it’s a bit of both.” First, he laid out the tail hypothesis: “Reddit is a reflection of reality. People are enthusiastic about Bernie or Trump in real life, so they go on Reddit and talk about how much they like Bernie or Trump. So far, so good.” Then he laid out the dog hypothesis, which his fellow social-media executives almost never acknowledge—that reality is also a reflection of social media. “All sorts of weird things can happen online,” he said. “Imagine I post a joke where the point is to be offensive—like, to imply, ‘This is something that a racist person would say’—but you misread the context and think, ‘Yeah, that racist guy has a good point.’ That kind of dynamic, I think, explains a lot of what happened on The_Donald, at least in the early days—someone keeps pushing a joke or a meme to see how far they can take it, and the answer turns out to be Pretty fucking far.”
Leftist communities on Reddit often implore the company to ban The_Donald. So far, Huffman has demurred. “There are arguments on both sides,” he said, “but, ultimately, my view is that their anger comes from feeling like they don’t have a voice, so it won’t solve anything if I take away their voice.” He thought of something else to say, but decided against it. Then he took a swig of beer and said it anyway. “I’m confident that Reddit could sway elections,” he told me. “We wouldn’t do it, of course. And I don’t know how many times we could get away with it. But, if we really wanted to, I’m sure Reddit could have swayed at least this election, this once.” That’s a terrifying thought. It’s also almost certainly true.
On August 11th, Huffman’s alma mater, the University of Virginia, was overrun by white nationalists carrying torches. “I was on a plane when I saw the news, and I got really emotional,” Huffman said. He told his employees, “If any of these people are on Reddit, I want them gone. Nuke ’em.” This felt cathartic, but personal catharsis is an awful way to make policy. “Luckily, my team knew me well enough to go, ‘Steve, you’re pissed off right now. Let’s talk about it more rationally on Monday.’ ”
Early the next week, Reddit banned Physical_Removal. In Charlottesville, James Alex Fields, one of the white nationalists, had driven a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring nineteen and killing a woman named Heather Heyer. “This is a good thing,” the top post on Physical_Removal read. “They are mockeries of life and need to fucking go.” Reddit had a rule prohibiting content that “encourages or incites violence,” and this was a violation of that rule. Huffman said, “We’d had our eye on that community for a while, and it felt good to get rid of them, I have to say. But it still didn’t feel like enough.”
“Encouraging or inciting violence” was a narrow standard, and Huffman and his team agreed to expand it. Four words became thirty-six: “Do not post content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people; likewise, do not post content that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals.” This, too, required interpretation, and forced the company to create a non-exhaustive list of exceptions (“educational, newsworthy, artistic, satire, documentary”). Still, it made the team’s intentions clearer. Jessica Ashooh, Reddit’s head of policy, spent four years as a policy consultant in Abu Dhabi. “I know what it’s like to live under censorship,” she said. “My internal check, when I’m arguing for a restrictive policy on the site, is Do I sound like an Arab government? If so, maybe I should scale it back.” On the other hand, she said, “people hide behind the notion that there’s a bright line between ideology and action, but some ideologies are inherently more violent than others.”
In October, on the morning the new policy was rolled out, Ashooh sat at a long conference table with a dozen other employees. Before each of them was a laptop, a mug of coffee, and a few hours’ worth of snacks. “Welcome to the Policy Update War Room,” she said. “And, yes, I’m aware of the irony of calling it a war room when the point is to make Reddit less violent, but it’s too late to change the name.” The job of policing Reddit’s most pernicious content falls primarily to three groups of employees—the community team, the trust-and-safety team, and the anti-evil team—which are sometimes described, respectively, as good cop, bad cop, and RoboCop. Community stays in touch with a cross-section of redditors, asking them for feedback and encouraging them to be on their best behavior. When this fails and redditors break the rules, trust and safety punishes them. Anti-evil, a team of back-end engineers, makes software that flags dodgy-looking content and sends that content to humans, who decide what to do about it.