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Radio Confronts EAS Hardware Backlog at Deadline

'We and our distributor community are trying to fill these orders as fast as we can"

Paul McLane is editor in chief of the U.S. edition of Radio World.

You did order your CAP-compliant EAS gear with plenty of lead time to meet the looming deadline, didn’t you?

Quite a few U.S. radio stations did not, perhaps because they were gambling on another delay of that deadline, or because they were confused by the process, or because they assumed equipment manufacturers and dealers could crank out product on demand.

Well June 30 is approaching with no sign of any intention by the FCC of a further extension. Indeed just nine days ago the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a terse press release reminding EAS participants that they must be able to receive and process Common Alerting Protocol-formatted alerts by the end of next week.

Some stations will not be able to comply because their gear won’t have arrived. I’m hearing from dealers that new CAP-compliant hardware ordered now will arrive in July, August or even early September.

“Looks like more stations chose to wait until the last minute than any of us anticipated,” said Tim Schwieger, president/CEO of dealer BSW. His company has hundreds of units on backorder, the longest being 60 days. Manufacturers, he said, “have been slammed with a higher sales volume than anticipated at this late stage.”

Equipment dealer SCMS has about 150 backorders. “We were able to fill orders from stock until two weeks ago, so the oldest one is about 14 days and will be a total of 40 days by mid-July,” said owner Bob Cauthen.

Harold Price, president of equipment maker Sage Alerting Systems, said customers who ordered gear from Sage dealers as recently as May should get their gear by the deadline. New orders, though, will come in July or later.

Ed Czarnecki, senior director for strategy, development & regulatory affairs for manufacturer Monroe Electronics/Digital Alerting Systems, said equipment delivery is “a few weeks” after order. “The closer to the deadline the order is placed, the longer it may take to deliver due to a last-minute surge of orders.” (I’m talking throughout this story about stations that choose to go with full-blown new EAS gear, not converters, which is its own interesting and somewhat controversial topic, as we’ve reported.)

Should equipment companies have better anticipated this round of demand? It’s hard to blame them. Buyers had more than a year of notice. Manufacturers ramped up and produced thousands of units last year, and many broadcasters took advantage. Further, no one seems to know the precise number of EAS units that the market will consume in total (in part because some hardware serves multiple stations). Manufacturers must hire staff, outsource labor and buy parts based on projections; dealers must try to anticipate “once-a-decade” stocking needs. These are not big corporations, they’re relatively small companies. That puts them in a tough spot.

In defense of manufacturers, Schwieger said, “It was impossible to identify the exact number of stations that had CAP-compliant equipment installed or on order. We became a bit tentative in the last 60 days in ordering a massive amount of units out of fear of not being able to sell them should the market reach saturation.”

Regardless, said Price of Sage, “We and our distributor community are trying to fill these orders as fast as we can. We had way more than we’d expected [in recent weeks] but we’re working to get those shipped out as soon as we can.” Czarnecki sounded a similar theme: “Digital Alert Systems has the component inventory in stock, and we’re moving as quickly as we can to fulfill orders.”

A lot of people, including me, assume that enforcement folks at the commission are unlikely to start writing tickets for CAP noncompliance on July 1. Conceivably, this could be a costly assumption. Nor is there any way to tell when a presumed grace period expires.

It would help things a great deal at this juncture if FCC staff would spell out the proper course of action for a station that has gear on order yet can’t get it until after the deadline. Price noted that FCC officials have encouraged such stations to “get in touch” with them but hadn’t specified how. This suggests a station can’t rest easy just because it has a copy of a purchase order in hand. Should the station notify the FCC through a particular mechanism? A phone call? A request for waiver? Smoke signals? Lacking such guidance, your best bet is to consult your station legal counsel.

Meanwhile, many other stations are working through more immediate questions.

“We are handling a very substantial level of calls asking about the IPAWS system, and how broadcasters should handle their own internal networks and firewalls,” Czarnecki said. “Easily, 80% of our calls at the moment have more to do with IPAWS, Internet service or firewall configuration” rather than anything directly to do with backordered gear.

Sorry. No data so far.