Thursday, March 13, 2014

3.13.14 Hero of the Day: The public radio RDS hacker

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on



Name: unknown
Age: unknown
Occupation: unknown
Last Seen: somewhere in Michigan
Awarded For: making public radio more interesting

Yesterday was just like any other day at work: long, boring and depressing.

But then, I had received an email on my smartphone from a reader who wanted to nominate a Bee-otch of the Day, this being Michigan Radio. You know, the group of NPR stations from the University of Michigan that have stations in Ann Arbor (91.7), Flint (91.1) and here in Grand Rapids (104.1).

The reason for our friend wanting Michigan Radio to be Bee-otched was simple: they got owned by a hacker.

On Monday, somebody hacked Michigan Radio's RDS system, you know, the digital readout on your radio if you own a GM vehicle? Many radio stations use RDS to give out the name of the program, call letters, format and even the song that's on the air. However, somebody decided to use Michigan Radio's RDS system for some simple comedy gold.

As you can see in the picture above, the text on the RDS readout reads "HANLON FUCKING SUCKS, GOOD RIDDANCE". That image came from @filmswithfriend on Twitter. JonesyDesign on Instagram posted a similar image with the text "Hmmm, it sounds like #FreshAir, but that doesn't look right. I think someone at #MichiganRadio screwed up or maybe an angry intern? #NPR #oops" Even the Twitter page of NPR's popular Fresh Air program had this image on there with the text "To the hacker of the Michigan station, Terry says, "Size doesn't matter." Photo via @Arfski"

(For the record, Terry Gross is the female host of Fresh Air, a popular program on NPR. Some have thought of her as gay for years because of her short hair, but she is straight and married to a well-known jazz critic).

Of course, the anti-Hanlon rants were pointed at Matt Hanlon, the moronic ex-GM of what are now the Cumulus stations here in Grand Rapids (WLAV, Nash 94.5, 105.3 Hot FM, WBBL and WJRW). He was responsible for the downfall of his stations when he ran them in the 2000's. Thankfully, he is no longer in radio, especially after a drunk driving arrest in 2012.

Now, I think Michigan Radio is a decent organization, although I hardly ever listen to NPR at all. While it was their fault that somebody wanted to create comedy gold by fucking with their RDS, shit happens in the world of broadcasting. Naturally, they have apologized for the incident on their website and have assured their listeners that they have enabled new methods to prevent something like this from happening again.

Of course, fans of public broadcasting know that this isn't the first time it's happened. In 1987, a man dressed up like Max Headroom interrupted the signal of Chicago's WTTW-TV 11 for almost two minutes during an airing of Dr. Who. That case remains unsolved 27 years later.

But to the individual who hacked Michigan Radio's RDS, thanks for spreading the truth. :)


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