Thirty-six years ago tonight, at 5:10 in the evening of Saturday, November 26, 1977, viewers of the UK station Southern Television saw and heard a very strange thing. In the middle of a news broadcast about a war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the audio cut out and a mysterious booming metallic voice came over the airwaves, claiming to be “the voice of Vrillon.” Vrillon stated that he was an extraterrestrial from the “Galactic Command” and that the people of Earth were entering a new “Age of Aquarius.” This new age would be a time of peace, but only if Earthlings gave up their evil weapons and made nice.
While viewers heard the voice of Vrillon, they continued to see the normal Southern Television broadcast followed by a Looney Tunes cartoon. After droning on for about six minutes Vrillon said that he was “leaving the plane of your existence” and the strange transmission ended. A few hours later Southern Television apologized on-air for the incident.
This extremely bizarre incident is an example of a “broadcast signal intrusion,” where a hacker gains temporary control of a broadcast frequency. The Vrillon incident was the UK’s most prominent occurrence of this rare phenomena, but it happened again in the United States, in Chicago, almost ten years to the day later–the Mad Headroom broadcast signal intrusion. This is pretty difficult to do and takes a lot of technical prowess, but it’s not impossible. In the Vrillon case the intrusion was probably accomplished by someone setting up a low-powered transmitter very near Southern Television’s transmitter in North Hampshire. Beaming the Vrillon signal to Southern’s transmitter caused the Vrillon audio to be hugely amplified and sent out over the airwaves to anyone who could tune into Southern Television’s channel.
The Max Headroom broadcast intrusion included both video and audio; the Vrillon signal was audio only. Likely the Max Headroom pirates were more technically sophisticated than whoever hacked Southern TV in 1977.
Like the Max Headroom incident of 1987, the identity of Vrillon, or whoever helped him get on the air, was never determined. Despite the technical knowledge needed to do something like this, it seems relatively common for video hijackers to get away with it. (Then again, it doesn’t happen very often).
Despite the explanations from Southern Television and the rather straightforward technical understanding of what happened, there were those in 1977 who (perhaps predictably) believed that the Vrillon signal was absolutely genuine–that there really is a Galactic Command up there and they really were warning Earth that night. The “Age of Aquarius” mythology that began the New Age movement was just ramping up in the late ’70s, and there were then, as there are today, numerous people eager to believe in contact from benevolent extraterrestrials. In fact, on YouTube today you can find numerous videos recounting the Vrillon incident as if it was literal proof of contact from aliens, instead of a hoax by someone with a perverse sense of humor and a penchant for broadcast engineering.
If you’re interested in hearing the voice of Vrillon for yourself, you can, thanks to the magic of YouTube. Here is the audio from the November 1977 broadcast, unedited, with subtitles added for your ease of understanding. Alas, Vrillon has never been seen (or heard) again after that night. He must still be drifting around up there in his star cruiser waiting for us Earthlings to mend our evil ways.