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FCC Issues $20,000 NAL to WNEW/New York Over EAS Tones


FCC
FCC

The FCC has slapped Entercom's WNEW-FM/New York with a Notice of Apparent Liability for $20,000 for airing Emergency Alert System (EAS) codes or Attention Signals in the absence of an actual national, state or local area emergency, authorized test of the EAS, or a qualified public service announcement (PSA). The Commission says that unauthorized use of the EAS Tones undermines the EAS system and presents a substantial threat to public safety.

The Commission received a complaint alleging that WNEW-FM improperly transmitted an EAS Tone on October 3, 2018. According to the complaint, an emergency tone aired during the "Karen & Jeffrey" program in a skit lampooning the nationwide WEA test that was conducted later that day. In response to the complaint, the Enforcement Bureau issued a letter of inquiry (LOI) on June 27, 2019, directing the company to produce recordings of the alleged programming, and sworn written statements as to whether it had transmitted, or caused the transmission of, the EAS Tones.

In its LOI Response, Entercom admits that the station aired the Attention Signal as part of the WEA skit and that the transmission was not in connection with an actual emergency, authorized test of the EAS, or a PSA. It explained that the skit was produced by a station employee who included the EAS Header Code in the initial version of the skit. After the host and the Program Director identified the use of the EAS Header Code as problematic and something that must be removed from the segment, the employee replaced it with approximately one second of the Attention Signal. The PD approved the revised segment for air.

As evident in the transcript and audio clip of the skit, the station lampooned the WEA test that was scheduled to take place later that day. In its LOI Response, Entercom admits that the host and PD recognized that the use of the EAS Header Code was impermissible. Despite having a policy on the misuse of EAS Tones, Entercom admits that the station aired the Attention Signal for approximately one second. The Commission said that Entercom's use of the Attention Signal in a parody of the first nationwide test of the EAS and WEA is specifically the type of behavior that its rules seeks to prevent.

The FCC's underlying policy concern is not limited to potential listener confusion at the moment of the improper broadcast of the EAS Tones. The Commission also has warned that the use of simulated or actual EAS Tones for non-authorized purposes -- such as commercial or entertainment purposes -- can lead to a dangerous "cry-wolf effect" or "alert fatigue." In those circumstances, the public becomes desensitized to the alerts, and questions or simply disregards whether a particular alert is intended to warn about a real, imminent threat or some other cause.

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