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Captain Midnight Arrested, FCC Says

July 22, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ John R. MacDougall of Ocala, Fla., was identified today as ″Captain Midnight,″ the space-age video pirate who overpowered HBO’s satellite delivery system to send a crude message to viewers in April.

The Federal Communications Commission said MacDougall was arrested and charged with ″illegally operating a satellite uplink transmitter.″

The Central Florida Teleport at Ocala was the only facility surveyed by the FCC with the proper combination of equipment and availability for use at the time of the interference, said Richard M. Smith, chief of the commission’s field operations bureau.

The operator on duty that night was MacDougall, he said.

In addition to his job at the teleport, the FCC said MacDougall is the owner of a dealership that sells backyard earth stations.

Just after midnight Sunday, April 27, viewers of HBO saw the movie ″The Falcon and the Snowman″ disappear from their TV screens to be replaced by a message printed in white letters.

″Goodevening HBO

″From Captain Midnight

″$12.95/month

″No way 3/8

″(Showtime/Movie Channel beware.)″

The wording was an apparent reference to HBO’s decision to scramble its satellite-delivered signal so it could not be watched by those not paying for HBO.

On Jan. 15, HBO became the first cable TV network to scramble its signal full time. Showtime and The Movie Channel scrambled their programming full time on May 27.

HBO has offered descrambling equipment to owners of backyard satellite dishes for $12.95 a month.

Almost from the time of the incident, the focus of the investigation has been on those with access to large, high-powered satellite transmitting dishes frequently used at broadcast stations.

The FCC could fine ″Captain Midnight″ $10,000 and put the violator in jail for a year, if they can obtain a conviction.

Although there were no reported repeat incidents, the FCC was hampered in its efforts to prevent additional disruption of satellite signals because a transmission to a satellite can come from anywhere in the United States. It is almost impossible to track interference unless the violator leaves some sort of a ″calling card,″ such as the videotaped evidence that HBO was able to provide the commission, showing, among other things the sophistication of the equipment used to write the message.

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