Thomas Arthur Schaefer

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Who My Mask Lives To Serve

Just got my hands on an Original Theatrical 1-sheet (27" X 41") poster for "The Falcon and the Snowman". Now the movie in and of itself is what it is. It stars Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn... a little 1985 drama from our pal John Schlesinger. It's the true story of a disillusioned military contractor employee and his drug pusher childhood friend who became walk-in spies for the Soviet Union. What interests me in this film is not the film itself, but what it's associated with - Captian Midnight.

John R. MacDougall (born c. 1961) also known as Captain Midnight, is a Florida electronic engineer and business owner, who jammed HBO's satellite signal in 1986 to broadcast a message protesting their rates for satellite dish owners.

In the mid-1980s, controversy erupted in the cable programming world as channel owners began scrambling their programming and charging fees to home satellite dish owners who accessed the same satellite signals cable operators received. Many satellite dish owners were forced to purchase descrambling equipment at a cost of hundreds of dollars in addition to paying monthly or annual subscription fees to cable programming providers. Programming costs for home dish owners were often higher than fees paid by cable subscribers, despite dish owners being responsible for owning and servicing their own equipment.

When HBO scrambled its signal, it offered subscriptions to home dish owners for $12.95 per month, which was either equal to or slightly higher than what cable subscribers paid. Dish owners felt they were being asked to pay a price that was designed to be anti-competitive, and it triggered a national movement among dish owners to more strongly regulate the cable industry and force them to stop anti-competitive pricing. While some dish owners called their elected officials, others took a more direct approach to send a message to the large industry.

On the morning of April 27, 1986, at 12:32am, John R. MacDougall, a satellite TV dealer in Ocala, Florida, was working at Central Florida Teleport, a company that uplinks services to satellites. He was overseeing the uplink of the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure. At the end of his shift, he swung the dish back into its storage position, pointing directly upward which happened to be the location of Galaxy 1, the satellite that carried HBO. As a protest against the introduction of high fees and scrambling equipment, he transmitted a signal onto the satellite which overrode HBO's airing of The Falcon and the Snowman for 4½ minutes.[1] The text message which appeared on the sets of HBO subscribers across the Eastern time zone read:

$12.95/MONTH ?

MacDougall chose the name "Captain Midnight" from a movie he had recently seen, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (not associated with a popular Captain Midnight radio show of the 1940s). After media pressure forced the Federal Communications Commission to act, MacDougall was charged and plea bargained a $5,000 fine and was placed on one year's probation.

Today, MacDougall owns MacDougall Electronics, a satellite dish dealership, in Ocala, Florida.

MacDougall Electronics mailing address
The Story of Captain Migdnight

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