It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...


Tonight I caught the second season opener of Mad Men on AMC, the channel which is just barely back in my good graces. I'm kind of regretting that I watched it on basic cable and not through any digital means, though. There was only one commercial break, but we've been on an Amber Alert going on all day and this means that every half hour the Emergency Alert System kicks in and all programming is interrupted by a big red screen with a 1985-era CATV message on it and a recording guy telling us, five times in a row, to go over to Channel 8 to hear another guy from the State Police talk about the details about the missing child. It's been going on all night, so every program gets interrupted and everybody misses part of each show.

These announcements are provided to us through the Emergency Alert System. The EAS is what replaced the Emergency Broadcast System. Remember those halcyon days of the two-tone signal scaring the crap out of you and announcing that there may be an EMERGENCY going on? The EBS hasn't been around since 1997 when it was replaced, but anybody who watched American broadcast TV in the 1980s can probably recite a variant of this message from memory:
This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in coordination with the FCC and federal, state and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. This is only a test.

[insert two-tone emergency signal BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORP here]

If this had been an actual emergency, the attention signal you just heard would have been followed by official news, information or instructions. This concludes this station's test of the Emergency Broadcast System.
Ok, remember when that used to smack you across the head every couple of days or so? That two-tone signal meant SOMETHING was up. And it was probably IMPORTANT. It was HOLY CRAP ARE THE RUSSIANS DROPPING THE BOMB? important. But thankfully there is that voice reassuring us it was only a test!

I can remember the EBS actually activating for reals only a few times in my life, mostly for hurricane warnings (Gloria in 1984 stopped by up here, among others.) And it did just what the EAS does: interrupt all programming for news, information and instructions. Or just a recorded statement. However, it was used sparingly so that we weren't used to it. And when it did go out, we paid a helluva lot of attention to it.

The EAS activating every thirty minutes, however, reduces the impact of the announcement, no matter how big and bold and red you make the screen. It is tragically overused here. At worst, it makes it seem as if the announcement's purpose is to sufficiently annoy the populace enough that we all get up and go looking for the kid.

I ain't grousing about the message, mind; just the medium. Severe weather warnings nowadays get a tidy little ticker running across the bottom or top of your screen. Surely the EAS technology can handle a ticker across all channels instead of full-stop breaking programming every 30 minutes, preventing cynical bastards everywhere from rolling their eyes and going "Okay, okay, we GET it, Amber Alert, the kid's STILL missing, THANK you, now GO AWAY." It turns from emergency to an annoyance and I'm pretty sure that's not what they had in mind when they developed this system. Just sayin is all.

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