WBAB radio signal hijacked

May 19, 2006 1:21 am
from Tom Roe

broke this story May 18, reporting that someone temporarily "hijacked" Long Island's WBAB (102.3, 95.3-FM) signal, interrupting Pink Floyd's "Hey You" with a racist song by Rebel Jonny.

"I'd like to find out who did it," program director John Olsen told Newsday's Bart Jones. "I'm not happy about it."

Olsen says a similar incident occurred with WBAB's sister station WBLI about two weeks ago with the same song, he said. The stations share a studio on Sunrise Highway in Babylon on Long Island, New York.

Olsen told Newsday that the station's technicians were unable to block the pirate transmission. After the Jonny Rebel song ended, several seconds of empty air space followed until regular broadcasting resumed with the end of the Pink Floyd song. The song "Nigger Hating Me" reportedly advocating killing African-Americans. It could be a racist statement, or an attempt to make the dumb humor of the station's morning show look even dumber. (The shows hosts are already in trouble for a "Wetback Steakhouse" fake commercial they recently aired.)

How could someone hijack a signal like this?

Well, not how you think. Just using a transmitter and broadcasting on the same frequency would only work in a small area just around the "pirate" transmitter. The "pirate" would have to have a more powerful transmitter (highly unlikely) and a higher antenna (virtually impossible) then the station it was attempting to override. (In this case, the "pirate" was heard throughout WBAB's signal area of Long Island and eastern New York City.)

Olsen guessed to Newsday that someone over-rode the STL (studio to link) high-frequency microwave signal from its studio in Babylon to its transmitting tower about six miles away in Dix Hills near the Long Island Expressway.

"Somebody using an illegal transmitter and small antenna we believe overtook our signal between the studio and the transmitter and that's how they got in," he told Newsday. He added that the "pirate" would have to be near the signal but not necessarily at the transmission tower.

"You have to be technologically pretty proficient in order to know how to do it," he said. "The equipment is probably readily available and if you know how to put the equipment together ... then it's something that's possible."

Speculation also popped up on the New York Radio Message Board, where radio station engineers and aficionados in the New York-area chat about technical things.

Posters there reported that WBAB powered down their transmitter, "and the song continued, the only thing that stopped the transmission was when the pirate shut his equipment off. (Probably to avoid being traced as it only lasted 1 minute)."

Word on the NY radio board was that the pirate probably was a radio engineer. "Obviously, the STL was hacked by someone who has the knowledge and the equipment to override the STL point-to-point link between WBAB's studios and transmitter. The STL frequencies are of public record," someone posted. "But, it would have to be someone who is close by and with enough power to capture the signal path. No doubt, someone had to have the knowledge and ability (and equipment) to do this."

"Indeed, whoever is responsible for this would have to have the necessary equipment not only to produce a signal at those frequencies, most likely at very high power, but also the equipment to align their antenna to the receiving dish at the TX site," another poster wrote. "STL patterns carry a very, very narrow beamwidth and it would require proper alignment to hit the STL receiver. Especially in order to override the existing STL signal."

For those interested: An STL is a studio to transmitter link, a mini-microwave complete with fixed dish antennas and transmitting very narrow beams.

An RPU is a remote pickup unit, which is used for remotes. The RPUs are basically police radios at 450 MHz (some at 26 Mhz too) that use dedicated channels, and provide better audio than utility radio. Licensed stations can move them around anywhere in their coverage area without prior FCC approval. With the new synthesized radios, they are very easy to hack into, according to posters on the radio board.
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