A high school teen becomes a pirate FM deejay in “On the Air Live with Captain Midnight”

By on February 25, 2019

In On the Air Live with Captain Midnight, high school teen “Ziggy Ziegler” becomes a popular pirate radio deejay after taking over the FM airwaves and the L.A. streets in his ’70s custom van.

Watch this obscure teen comedy — the title later gained cult infamy after John R. MacDougall called himself “Captain Midnight” when he hacked into HBO’s satellite TV signal — now on Night Flight Plus.

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On the Air Live with Captain Midnight — shelved by distributor Columbia Pictures after it was completed in 1977 and not released theatrically until November 1979 — was written and directed by Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, the filmaking duo behind the 1976 Claudia Jennings exploitation hit Gator Bait.

Their son Tracy Sebastian plays high school teen “Marvin ‘Ziggy’ Ziegler,” who is fired from his part-time FM radio station job after playing the wrong record on the air.

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The high school teen really needs a job because he has to continue making payments on his customized van (On the Air Live with Captain Midnight was released at the tail end of the short-lived “Vansploitation” genre).

Ziggy and his nerdy best friend “Gargen” (Barry Greenberg) — who spend a lot of their free time cruising the Sunset Strip — are messing around with C.B. radio when they intrude on an FM radio signal, pirate radio-style.

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Ziegler launches into a rock-jock rap: “Okay, all you wang dang sweet poontangs out there, this is Captain Midnight with some sound advice for the lovelorn…”

The next day, everyone at Fairfax High is all abuzz about “Captain Midnight.”

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Encouraged by his girlfriend “Spunky” — played by Mia Kovacs, daughter of legendary comedian Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams in (sadly) her only film role — Ziggy upgrades his radio equipment and starts up a mobile outlaw broadcast station out of the back of his van.

At one point, he dedicates a song to his mom, played by Dena Dietrich (you might recognize her from ’70s TV commercials as Chiffon margarine’s “Mother Nature,” or from her many film & TV roles).

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Ziggy even hires assistants to collect his listener’s song requests (amazingly, these pre-Spotify kids are apparently willing to pay to hear their fave songs on the radio).

Captain Midnight’s popularity soars as he drives around the streets of L.A. blasting ’70s rock tunes over the airwaves (gird your loins for several Ted Nugent barnstormers, including “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wang Dang, Sweet Poon Tang”).

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The movie features occasional appearances by L.A. FM radio deejay legend Jim Ladd, who offers encouragement while Ziggy and Gargen try to evade the FCC’s “Agent Pearson” (John Ireland).

In the end, Captain Midnight even parachutes into Magic Mountain, an amusement park just north of L.A., the very same setting for 1977’s Rollercoaster (featuring Sparks!) and ’78’s KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

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Read more about the real “Captain Midnight” and filmmakers Ferd & Beverly Sebastian below.

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In this 2015 Night Flight blog post (Night Flight contributor Bart Bealmear also recently wrote about this in a recent Dangerous Minds blog post), we told you about an Ocala, Florida-based satellite TV technician named John R. MacDougall.

He became upset when HBO began scrambling their signals so that dish owners like him weren’t able to watch their programming without paying an expensive subscription fee.

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Just after midnight on Sunday, April 27, 1986, MacDougall — who owned his own company, MacDougall Electronics — hacked into HBO”s East Coast satellite feed during The Falcon and the Snowman.

Viewers saw a color-bar test pattern and MacDougall’s message to the cable network: “Goodevening HBO from Captain Midnight; $12.95/Month? No Way! (Showtime/Movie Channel beware).”

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Although MacDougall’s nearly five-minute act of rebelliousness led to him being hailed a hero to many, he was fined five thousand dollars and given a year of probation.

MacDougall later said he’d called himself “Captain Midnight” after the character in On the Air Live with Captain Midnight, which had recently aired on HBO, adding a little extra mystique to this fairly obscure teen-themed comedy.

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The superhero-sounding moniker was actually derived from the popular “Captain Midnight” comic book character about a World War II pilot who always returned from his dangerous missions at the midnight hour.

It was later a radio show of the 1930s and ’40s before becoming a TV series in the 1950s.

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Ferdinand “Ferd” Sebastian first met wife Beverly at a roller skating rink in Houston, Texas, when they were both in their late teens.

Ten days later, they ran away and got married, and ended up in L.A., where Ferd worked as a cinematographer on TV commercials and movies.

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Both were drawn to the exploitation genre, and were soon financing their own movies, writing/directing/producing exploitation flicks like The Hitchhikers (1973), The Single Girls (1974), Gator Bait (1976), Flash and the Firecat (1976), and Delta Fox (1979).

Their 1988 sequel to Gator BaitGator Bait II: Cajun Justice — starred Jan McKenzie, who also once wrestled as one of the 1980s-era Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.)

She ended up marrying the Sebastian’s oldest son, Ferd Jr., and the couple went on to produce a nationally-syndicated educational children’s program, “Real Life 101.”

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Tracy Sebastian appears as “Tray Loren” in 1989’s American Angels: Baptism of Blood,  a Ferd & Beverly-directed film which seems like it might have influenced the Netflix series “GLOW.”

Loren/Sebastian is also in Gator Bait II and Rocktober Blood (directed by his mom).

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After writing/directing 1993’s Running Cool, the Sebastians retired to Florida, where they currently run a non-profit group, the National Greyhound Foundation.

Watch On the Air Live with Captain Midnight on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.