A Word About the Former Emergency Broadcast System (Now the Emergency Alert System): The Feds Probably Don’t Like It If Broadcasters (Even Crazy College Kids) Don’t Take It Seriously, Even if it Is “Only a Test”
By Ken K. Gourdin
On mentalfloss.com, there is a very brief history of the systems the federal government has used over the years to notify the public of various emergencies. The post can be found here (last visited January 31, 2017):
From 1963 until 1997, the system the federal government used was known as the Emergency Broadcast System. The Federal Communications Commission used to require television and radio broadcasters to run periodic tests of the system (much as it does today with the EBS’s successor, the Emergency Alert System) to ensure that it is in good working order and will function as intended in a genuine emergency.
Apparently, comedian and actor Pee Wee Herman did a parody of the test. Another commenter on the Mental Floss thread stated that they used to substitute the parody in place of the genuine test. Mentioning my own (albeit brief) history in college radio at KRDC at Dixie College (now Dixie State University) in St. George, Utah, I responded:
Wouldn’t that, ummm, like, get you in trouble with the FCC … at least, if the feds found out about it? (I know, I know: I’m probably asking too much of crazy college kids, but still …) When I was in radio production for a quarter (shortly after the dawn of radio), we used to have to run those tests, too. In fact, I was in the studio with our station manager one day (off the air), and, on a lark, I started giving that familiar warning:
“This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. [Specified tone for specified period.] This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area, in voluntary cooperation with federal, state, and local authorities, have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the attention signal you just heard would have been followed by official news, information, or instructions. This station serves the St. George, Utah area. This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System.”
When I started giving the warning, the station manager said, “You know, we need to re-record that. Would you mind?” I said, “Nope.” So thereafter, probably until the EBS was replaced by the EAS three or four years later, whenever that test was run, it featured my melodious, mellifluous, dulcet-toned voice. ;-D
I’m not sure if the Federal Communications Commission or its powers-that-be have a sense of humor, or if they understand the concepts that “crazy college kids will be crazy college kids” or that crazy college kids are the administrative equivalent of “judgment proof” when it comes to having six-figure fines levied against them for violations—although the kids wouldn’t pay the fine; the station (in this case, the station’s sponsoring institution, the college or university) would.