The Unsolved Case of The “Lucky 7” Pirate TV Station

It aired for one weekend in 1978, but who was behind it and how they did it remains a mystery to this day.

Image courtesy of Viaccess-Orca.

Image courtesy of Viaccess-Orca.

Nicholas Paragano, Co-editor, Arts & Entertainment

One weekend in April 1978, residents of Syracuse, New York discovered a new and unauthorized television station airing on Channel 7. The pirated station referred to itself as “Lucky Seven” and aired various movies and TV shows, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Star Trek, and The Twilight Zone. They even aired some adult films. In between programs, an unidentified man wearing a gas mask editorialized, made jokes, and bragged about the station’s capabilities. “Lucky 7 reaches about half of the Syracuse area,” the man allegedly told viewers, “if you’re watching, you’re part of that half.” The station even had an identification video, showing a pair of dice rolling to seven, with an all-female choir singing in the background. 

A man in a gas mask editorialized between programs. Image courtesy of 96.1 The Eagle.

Lucky 7 aired on the evenings of April 14th, 15th, and 16th, 1978. After that, the station vanished, never to be seen again. News of the Lucky 7 incident made national headlines, and the FCC began an investigation to find the pirates responsible. In the nearly 43 years since the incident, however, said pirates have yet to be identified. No footage of Lucky 7 has been seen since its initial airing in 1978. At the time, VCRs were still new and very expensive, and VHS tapes had only become available in the United States the year prior. Thus, it was very unlikely that someone that saw Lucky 7 would have been able to record it. In 2009, a user on the forums made a topic asking for any additional information regarding Lucky 7. “I saw [the] Lucky 7 broadcasts,” a user named Rob Jason replied, “I was watching on a 1969 B & W Panasonic 12-inch portable, with a one-pole VHF antenna. They also ran “Rocky” (not even a year old then), and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. I saw it in Liverpool, near route 81 (Galeville, to be exact), maybe 4 four miles as the crow flies from S.U. The signal was very poor. I could not get audio, and it was snowy.” Rob notes that he was about four miles away from Syracuse University. This is where the most prominent theory on the identity of the pirates lies. Many people have speculated that the pirates were students at Syracuse University, seeing as Lucky 7’s signal was clearest near and at the university. Syracuse is home to the Newhouse School of Communications, so it is very possible that a group of communications students could be behind the pirate station, seeing as they have the knowledge and the equipment to do so. It is also alleged that the choir from the ID video were students from Syracuse’s Crouse Music School.

The Newhouse School of Communications, where the pirates may have been students. Image courtesy of Syracuse University.

According to Dan Patrick, news director for WIXT in Syracuse at the time, it would only take someone with a basic knowledge of broadcasting and some equipment to broadcast their own station. They would have needed a VCR, a distribution modulator, and an antenna to get the job done. “A good receiving antenna,” Patrick told The New York Times in 1978, “would do the job if you could get it up high enough. I can think of any number of dormitories that are high enough.” This adds more fuel to the theory that the pirates were Syracuse communications students. As to how they got their programming, John Theimer, an FCC agent in Buffalo at the time, had an idea. He theorized that the pirates might have tapped into an HBO cable to acquire the movies and TV shows they would later air, recording them to play back later on Lucky 7. “Very definitely, we are interested in finding who is broadcasting that stuff,” Theimer told The New York Times. If caught, the pirates would have to face a punishment of either fines up to $10,000, or one year in jail, possibly both. However, the statute of limitations has most likely already expired, seeing as it’s been nearly 43 years since the Lucky 7 broadcasts. 

An article about the incident from The New York Times. Image courtesy of Google News.

It is very unlikely that those responsible for Lucky 7 will ever be found, and it is equally unlikely that footage from the broadcasts will be uncovered. Despite being a relatively obscure case shrouded in mystery, it is notable for being among the first unauthorized TV stations in American history. Such a feat is essentially impossible today, since the transition from analog to digital in 2009. Perhaps one day the pirates will come out of hiding, and reveal to the world how they broadcasted Lucky 7. Until then, this case remains an unsolved mystery.