John MacDougall, then 25, was the lonely pamphleteer of lore, only instead of paper and ink he was armed with a 30-foot transmission dish, an electronic keyboard, and a burning objection to HBO's decision in 1986 to begin scrambling its satellite signal and charging viewers $12.95 a month.
That move and price had offended MacDougall's sense of fair play -- and all but halted the sales being generated by his fledgling satellite dish business in Ocala, Fla. So at 12:32 a.m. on Sunday, April 27, he transformed himself into Captain Midnight by commandeering HBO's satellite transmission signal - interrupting a showing of The Falcon and the Snowman -- and putting in its place the above protest message that aired for four-and-a-half minutes.
The stunt touched off a nationwide manhunt by law enforcement to unmask Captain Midnight and a media circus that has MacDougall's head spinning to this day. He would be caught, plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and receive a wrist slap of probation and a $5,000 fine.
Today, on the 25th anniversary of the caper that earned him infamy, MacDougall says he has no regrets about what he did or why he did it, although he does wish his motivations had been better understood and that he had better appreciated that he was playing with dynamite.
"I do not regret trying to get the message out to corporate America about unfair pricing and restrictive trade practices," he told me in a phone interview. "That was the impetus for doing what I did; that's the reason I jammed HBO; that's the reason I sent them a polite message.
"What I do regret is that I was young and fairly naïve in the ways of the media. I didn't grasp the fact that no one understood my motives and that everyone would make assumptions. Had I known that up front I would have been much more fervent in explaining my motivations. I had no animus and I had no malice in my heart."
MacDougall believes now as then that by scrambling the signal, which required a $500 decoder, and setting the monthly price at $12.95 -- versus the $2 per subscriber it charged cable providers, who in turn charged landline subscribers only $8.95 - HBO was in essence strangling the nascent satellite TV business.
"History proved me correct, by the way, because just a few years after this, in 1989-90, I could purchase HBO through the satellite for as little as $5.95 a month, and that was a la carte, not bundled," he says. "It's unfortunate that it took jamming their signal to get the message across."