Radio News: FCC considers updating EAS
Randy J. Stone reports in Radio World that the Federal Communications Commission is thinking about reinventing the Emergency Alert System. Listeners mostly hear tests of the Emergency Alert System on televisions and radios, that open with a long static-filled tone and say that "in the event of an actual emergency" important information would be relayed. The system is mostly used as a warning for hazardous weather events, interrupting programming on all stations in the affected area. The system began in 1997, primarily to allow the President of the United States to address the country via all radio and television stations in the event of a national emergency, but has never been used for anything other than regional weather warnings. The emergency messages come in four parts: a digitally encoded Specific Area Message Encoding header, an attention signal, an audio announcement, and a digitally encoded end-of-message marker. So while listeners only understand the words or messages, computers are hearing other information. Some stations in each market get the initial warning message, and the other stations get the message from that station through the digital codes. Now, though, many Americans do not get all their immediate information from over-the-air transmissions. Many hear new from online digital sources. A second system, the Common Alerting Protocol, has been set up for digital sources, and the FCC is now asking broadcasters if they can all switch to that system, and integrate it somehow into analog radio and television. This is a behind-the-scenes debate, and whatever the result will probably sound the same to listeners and viewers in the future, if the mandate for a messaging system remains. It might now, since it is not really needed for national emergency, when every channel would be covering every moment of a president's words without any mandate.