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Chriss Scherer Scherer has been the editor of Radio magazine since 1997. His experience in radio includes work as chief engineer at stations in Cleveland (WMMS-FM, WHK-AM, WZJM-FM, WJMO-AM...more

Archive for September 10th, 2010

Faked EAS Tones — Really a Big Deal?

You have heard about the Arco ads that have a pseudo-faked alert theme in them, which includes an altered EAS header. (If not, read the story here.) As is usually the case with anything even slightly emergency notification related, a small group of broadcasters stands up to make a mountain out of the mole hill.

First, listen to the spot. There’s a link to the audio in the article reference above. You’ll hear the duck-squawk-like tones at the beginning and inclusion of the phrase, “This is only a test.” The first question that is raised is if this radio spot violates FCC rules to transmit a fake emergency alert message.

This was fueled by a handful of EAS decoders that were able to decode the altered header, which happens to include corrupt data that says it’s a required weekly test (RWT) for several counties around Tampa, FL. Not all decoders reacted to it. Those encoders that did reacted like they should with an RWT: They only logged it.

Some stations were concerned about the erroneous header without a message. I agree with the due diligence to determine the nature of the incomplete message. It could have easily been indicative of a problem with the EAS decoder. But it was not.

So what’s the appropriate action? Some in the small group of emergency alerting watchers are calling for FCC fines and deliberate effort to teach station owners and the marketing world a lesson.

Some say issue fines. Who should be fined? The station aired a spot. Granted, the production effort of the spot was a poor idea, but investigation of the faked header shows it is not an actual or even valid alert header. The stations should notify the client that this was a bad idea. The client can notify the ad agency that created the spot. The FCC can’t fine the ad agency for creating the spot, and broadcasters insisting the FCC fine other broadcasters for accepting and airing ad materials opens the door to even bigger issues.

Some say that broadcasters should create a suitable faked EAS-like audio file for media outlets to use when needed. This was compared to using a phone number starting with 555. Why would anyone promote using a faked signal? That’s just a bad idea no matter how you look at it. The reality is that faked emergency alert tones will be used from time to time. Rather than make it easier for faked tones to be used — and condition the public to ignore them more than they already do — inform those who made the mistake now. Everyone knows not to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. They should also know not to use real EAS headers in spots and promos.

In the end, this was really a harmless action. Rather than use it as a witch hunt, use the opportunity to inform those who are less familiar with FCC rules (and apparently some common sense).

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