On this day – Hitz FM got hacked

The youth station’s 5th broadcast went quite smoothly until the day Hitz FM got hacked.

We’d tweaked the music to add a bit more hiphop and alternative to the mix. We were smashing out the big pop/dance tracks of early ’95 like The Bomb (The Bucketheads), Living in Danger (Ace of Base) and the Hardfloor remix of Yeke Yeke [Mary Kante]. We had fantastic Jeep Renegade vehicles for giving out prizes. And the Hitz team were living on a very healthy (?) diet of Jolt Cola and Kettle Chips.

But one day in the final week of the broadcast, a little “beep” changed everything.

A club pass for Factory at The 75th Squadron

The warning sign one day earlier

Thursday April 27th started out like most other days. There were promos playing to advertise the dual ‘end of broadcast parties the coming Saturday. There was a licensed event at ‘Factory’ the 75th Squadron, and an all-ages gig in Doncaster. Kel McWilliam was doing the morning show when a little ‘beep’ played momentarily over the music.

I happened to hear it – I’m not sure how many other staff members did. I didn’t pay much attention to the beep, assuming it was just a problem with the equipment. Maybe Kel was getting a song ready and accidentally pressed the wrong button. The sound came and went without anybody realising its significance.

The Hitz FM program grid for Broadcast 5, April 1995

Time to head to King Street…

Friday night, we were broadcasting from Inflation nightclub once again. Adele Cookson and Paul Dowsley were hosting their night show – Dribble live from the club. Adele would often sit at a desk in the foyer, while Paul took a ‘roving mic’ out on the street, asking cars to toot their horns so it could be heard on the radio.

On this particular Friday, I’d been helping out in the station throughout the day. Around 8.30pm I was planning to go down to Inflation to join in the fun. But I never got there. Adele Cookson explains why. “Yep, I remember that moment. When they initially ‘pirated’ over our show, they were playing AC/DC’s Hells Bells. It sounded pretty strange on Hitz, complete with these big, boomy, eerie bells at the beginning.”

An ad in the Herald Sun for Adele and Paul’s show “Dribble” in Broadcast 5

Panic set in

Suddenly, the music Hitz FM was playing was not under our control. At first I thought it must be another test broadcaster having their music ‘leak’ onto our 89.9 frequency. The music changed once or twice, then it disappeared and Hitz FM started again. Then the strange music returned. It was too clear to be a simple accident. We made lots of panicky mobile calls between the station and the nightclub.

Then, after 10pm it got even worse. The music came on, then stopped, and a strange disguised voice said “This is Pirate FM, we have taken over your spectrum.” The music continued, then returned to our program. Now we were really frightened. The pirates could jump on whenever they wanted, completely killing our signal. They could play whatever music they wanted, and much worse, they could say whatever they wanted.

A press release typed up on the night of the pirate attack – it was never sent out.

Our response

We started reading out a message, saying that people were taking over our equipment and apologising for the disruptions to the program. I typed up a press release at 10.30pm, to send to the media. After all, if someone was going to stuff up our second last night, we might as well get some publicity from it. But in the end, we decided not to send it out, as any media coverage would have been a “pat on the back” for the pirates.

Andrew Gyopar (Hitz FM President at that time) remembers the night. “I recall the general panic. We were losing control of our broadcast and also in breach of our broadcast licence.” he explains. My understanding of how the pirates did the ‘hack’ was that there was a microwave transmitter at Hitz FM (in St Kilda Road) that sent our audio to Mount Dandenong where it got sent out as FM 89.9. The pirates got between the two places with their own transmitter, and ‘pushed us out of the way’ to play their own songs.

“We kept our broadcast safe by ‘scrambling’ the signal…

Andrew Gyopar

Andrew explained what happened after that. “I had to submit a report to the government. And we did keep using a microwave link for all our test broadcasts but after that incident – we used an encoded signal instead.” So, just like the little ‘padlock’ on your web browser that keeps your credit card safe, we kept our broadcast safe by ‘scrambling’ the signal.

The pirates could never take over our music again.

And that’s how Hitz got Hacked…. on April 28th, 1995.

Photo montage thanks to Sergio Souza & Anna Shvets from Pexels

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