Many urban legends have surrounded pirated television broadcasts or rogue transmissions of unknown origin, and many infamous examples of these incidents remain unexplained… sometimes decades later.
Arguably one of the most-discussed examples is the so-called “Max Headroom Broadcast” of November 1987, wherein an unknown prankster (whose identity remains a mystery three decades later), disguised as ‘80s pop-culture figure Max Headroom, hijacked the signals of WGN-TV and WTTW in Chicago, during which they transmitted two rather bizarre amateur “performances” to baffled television viewers.
Fortunately, someone was recording WTTW at the time, and this is what they captured:
While there are more examples like this one, not all of them are obsessed over to the same degree… and a few of these lesser-known cases are far more disturbing.
One of these is known as “The Wyoming Incident” (or “The Wyoming Hijacking”), which is alleged to have originated in 2008 from a small ABC affiliate, serving a few rural townships across Niobrara County in eastern Wyoming.
A video recording of one such transmission, which has since made the rounds on social media, captured one of several successful attempts to hijack the station’s signal in the middle of an evening newscast.
A roughly five-minute clip broke into the program with bizarre, cryptic and disturbing video sequences, depicting crudely animated human heads and faces bearing an assortment of eerie expressions. These unsettling images were interspersed with what looks like a test pattern of some sort, flashing the words SPECIAL PRESENTATION, and static text with phrases like “YOU ARE ILL… WE JUST WANT TO FIX YOU” and “YOU WILL SEE SUCH PRETTY THINGS.”
According to most accounts, the video’s notoriety is not due to its strange images and droning audio, but for the unexplained and often harmful effects it had on residents of Niobara County who watched the live transmission. Some of those viewers reported experiencing physical reactions — including severe headaches and nausea — as well as mental symptoms such as intense hallucinations and temporary loss of memory.
While some locals believed the broadcast was the result of some paranormal influence, it has also been analyzed by scientists, who theorize the symptoms are the result of a specific audio frequency embedded within the signal.
The video posted below, claimed to be an excerpt from the Wyoming transmission, reportedly contains a subsonic tone below the range of human hearing, cycling between roughly 17 and 19 Hz. According to experts, this tone can potentially trigger audio-visual hallucinations, as well as physical discomfort including headaches, vertigo, nausea and changes in skin temperature, after long-term exposure to these frequencies.
Some scientists have even theorized that these mental and physical reactions may lead people to believe they’re seeing ghosts or other paranormal phenomena.
I can neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the video, though I can perhaps vouch for one of the unusual symptoms reported by those who have viewed it…
Although I experienced no ill effects in the first few viewings, I can confirm that the higher-pitched tone which accompanies most of the clip continued to ring in my ears for approximately half a minute after the video ended. Even stranger, the tone seemed to be coming from a specific location in my office… behind my chair, to be exact.
My attempts to replicate this effect after that single occurrence were unsuccessful, despite three additional plays of the clip, but it may lend some validity to the theory that that specific tone (or another, lower-frequency tone embedded within it) could trigger auditory hallucinations.
Just as with the “Max Headroom” broadcast, the identity of the person or persons who orchestrated the Wyoming Incident remains a total mystery…