Yesterday we told you about how EAS tones that were traced back to the syndicated Bobby Bones show last Friday triggered the Emergency Alert System in several states. Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates Bones, released this statement on Monday: “The tone should not have aired. We are cooperating fully with the authorities and are taking aggressive action to investigate this incident and prevent it from recurring. We deeply regret the error.” There is also no word of any suspensions as of yet as a result of the tones being aired. The FCC does have a rule about airing the EAS tones and we turn to Broadcast Attorney John Garziglia for an explanation so you know exactly what to tell your people.
The FCC’s Emergency Alert System rule is explicit: “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.”
The false sending of EAS codes or the attention signal is akin to pulling a fire alarm in an occupied building. In addition to being a violation of law, false EAS codes and the attention signal cause public confusion, and a false EAS activation could cause injuries or worse to those who unwittingly take actions in response.
One year ago in November 2013, the FCC released a multi-page “Enforcement Advisory” (https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-2123A1.pdf) on false, fraudulent or unauthorized use of EAS codes and the attention signal. The FCC noted that it was then taking two EAS enforcement actions, one issuing a $25,000 fine, and the other in which $39,000 was paid in a consent decree.
As detailed in the FCC’s advisory, the rule applies to any “person” who “transmits” or “causes to transmit” a prohibited EAS code or attention signal. As explained by the FCC, “[t]he prohibition thus applies to programmers that distribute programming containing a prohibited sound regardless of whether or not they deliver the unlawful signal directly to consumers; it also applies to a person who transmits an unlawful signal even if that person did not create or produce the prohibited programming in the first instance. Therefore, the prohibition also applies to a broadcaster, cable operator, or satellite carrier that transmits programming containing a prohibited sound even if the programmer that embedded the sound is not under common ownership or control with the respective broadcaster, operator, or carrier.” In other words, it behooves everyone in the broadcast chain to guard against false EAS codes and attention signals.
As a technical matter, EAS comprises an opening code, the harsh attention signal that is uniformly recognized by audiences that precedes an EAS message, the message itself, and then the closing code. If only part of either the codes or the attention signal is broadcast, or if a recording of a previous EAS test is broadcast, it may cause unwanted behavior from a variety of EAS receivers monitoring the originating programming.
EAS as it exists today has many technical and implementation issues. We can debate whether EAS works as intended, whether it would serve the purpose if the President ever did have to deliver an emergency message, whether it is secure enough from hackers, and if a message truly would be fully delivered in an actual national emergency.
One thing about EAS is not an issue, however. That is the seriousness with which all involved regard the EAS codes and attention signal. Every air personality, programmer, program producer, ad agency and manager needs to understand that there are significant FCC fines for misuse of EAS codes and the attention signal.