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Radio DJs: Stop. Crying. Wolf.

EAS simulations annoy – and endanger

Paul McLane is editor in chief.

Some people are wondering if iHeartMedia will be penalized by the FCC after the Bobby Bones Show used EAS tones in a morning show bit last week. Duh.

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to understand how any U.S. radio personality could not know that this would be a problem. (Actually, I do know; read my conclusion at the bottom.)

A quick Google search finds these stories just on Radio World’s website. Other radio trade publications have reported on this problem numerous times:

Don’t Air EAS Tones Unless It’s a Real Alert (Feb. 2013)
Excerpt: It’s illegal to air the codes or attention signal of an EAS alert in a news story or for other purposes. DJs from WIZM(FM) in La Crosse, Wis. — the LP1 for the market — aired the fake EAS “zombie” alert that went out on several stations this week, according to the La Crosse Tribune.

FCC Warns Against Airing False EAS Tones (Nov. 2013):
“Enforcement Bureau Chief Bob Ratcliffe says the action sends a strong message that the commission won’t tolerate misuse or abuse of the EAS.”

Turner Faces Stiff EAS Fine (January 2014)
“The FCC is serious about its rule that bans the use of real or simulated EAS tones on the air. So much so the agency proposed a $200,000 fine against Turner Broadcasting System.”

FCC Proposes $1.93 Million in EAS Fines (March 2014)
“The agency fears by airing the tones at other times, a station could panic listeners or, the audience could become so used to hearing the tones that they ignore them as well as necessary instructions in an actual emergency.”

Enforcement Bureau Official Reinforces EAS Tone Prohibition (April 2014)
It’s crying wolf,” said Eloise Gore, associate chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

Or farther back:

ARCO Radio Spot Trips EAS Units, SBE Says (Sept. 2010)
“No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS …”

SBE Raises Alert About EAS Tones in Ad (Nov. 2010)
Engineers notified Radio World that a promo for the movie “Skyline,” which opens on Friday contained what sounded like EAS tones throughout the spot.

So how can station air talent not realize that airing EAS in a gag is not only forbidden but will cause a chain reaction of unintended, problematic consequences?

Without being privvy to internal details of a given incident, I am not one who grouses that air talent do not care about such things. While a few may simply not care, the problem generally, I believe, is not intent. It is lack of awareness.

Incidents like the above, taken in aggregate, demonstrate that our industry in general has stopped taking EAS training seriously and no longer consistently imbues our programming staffs with an understanding of why the alert system matters in the first place and the role radio plays when an actual emergency comes along.

When radio lobbies Congress, we sure mentions that role; but on a daily basis, too many of us focus on content and entertainment, while failing to leaven the culture with discussion of where and when the joke needs to stop.

When I was in the news department at small-market, high-achieving WDEL(AM)/WSTW(FM) in Wilmington, Del., the management held frequent staff meetings to explain what was then called EBS, to introduce us personally to local emergency officials and to make clear to us what our responsibilities were regarding alerting.

Such meetings were not just in the name of a good cause; management surely was well aware that its own licenses and business investments were involved, in addition to the safety of its community.

I can tell you this: Anyone who sat in such a meeting would not have blithely aired audio of an EAS alert.

So I challenge radio managers reading this to ask: “Is everyone on my staff, today, aware that airing EAS tones, except for a test or an emergency, is not allowed? If not, why not?”

Post a comment below with your thoughts.