This Is Only A Test!

Had this been an actual emergency, possums everywhere would have attacked!

Had this been an actual emergency, possums everywhere would have attacked!

flashback fridayIt’s a beautiful Spring day back in the 1980’s, the perfect time to be lounging around inside on the couch watching the tube.  You’re just sitting there, half paying attention to the program while playing on your smartphone trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, when all of a sudden your ears are viciously assaulted by the tone they play at the gates of Hell while some voiceover guy is reminding you that everything is just A-OK…

Congratulations!  You have just been brought to attention by a test of the Emergency Broadcast System!

These required tests used to scare the shit out of kids back in the day, and even adults had to get a bit of a chill down their spines every time they heard the infamous EBS tone.  What in the hell is the Emergency Broadcast System anyway, and why did it have to be tested so damned often?  This is not a test… the EBS system will be the subject of this week’s edition of Flashback Friday!

Take cover immediately!

Take cover immediately!

Back in the 1950’s, atomic weapons and the rise of the Soviet Union as a world superpower created a perpetual game of chicken between the US and the USSR.  This in turn led to the public’s fascination with the fact that we could literally be wiped out in a matter of minutes were we to be nuclearly assaulted by that dreaded enemy communism.  We needed to know immediately when the bombs were coming so we could have time to wet our pants before we turned into a ducking, covering pile of cinders…

atomic es

This is it, the apocolypse.

So the US Civil Defense Department, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, devised the old CONELRAD system… which when alerted would require all TV and radio stations to stop transmitting except for two designated AM radio frequencies where information on the national emergency would be broadcast.  CONELRAD was in effect from 1951 through 1963, when it was replaced by the much more familiar Emergency Broadcast System…

CONELRAD in action...

CONELRAD in action…

The Emergency Broadcast System was a more updated version of CONELRAD that when activated, alerted stations to broadcast a message directing viewers to tune into whatever the designated primary EBS station was in each media market.  It was designed to give the President a fast way to communicate to the public nationwide in the event of a national emergency.

You heard me, activate the Emergency Broadcast System!  You'll never believe what I just saw out of my window!

You heard me, activate the Emergency Broadcast System! You’ll never believe what I just saw out of my window!

During the first few years of the EBS’s reign, stations were required to continue conducting weekly tests in the same method as was done under CONELRAD… which required turning their transmitters off, on, off, on, then broadcasting the attention signal, assuming the transmitter didn’t blow up from being turned off and on like that.  But beginning in 1976, the testing procedure changed to the one we are most familiar with today… and it went a little something like this.

Normal programming was interrupted to conduct the test (though it was usually slotted during commercial breaks)…

I think I may be in danger.

I think I may be in danger.

The station announcer would be heard announcing that the station would be conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System, and that it was ONLY A TEST!

Too late!!!  I'm already on my way to buy six months worth of milk, bread, and toilet paper!!!

Too late!!! I’m already on my way to buy six months worth of milk, bread, and toilet paper!!!

Then you would hear the infamous EBS tone for about 20 seconds that was intentionally designed to make your ears bleed.

It may have only been a test, but now it's become an all out aural emergency!

It may have only been a test, but now it’s become an all out aural emergency!

The announcer would then come back on and, assuming you could still hear, would again remind you that this was ONLY A TEST, and that had it been an actual emergency, you would have been given “official information, news, or instructions”.  Yeah, like I’m going to listen to anyone who wants to assault my eardrums with that fucking tone.

This is a test of the Emergency Go Fuck Off And Die System.  This is only a test...

This is a test of the Emergency Go Fuck Off And Die System. This is only a test…

Before returning you to somewhat normal programming, the announcer would then have to remind you what city they are broadcasting from, just in case you forgot where you lived.  And finally, the reassuring “this concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System”.  Well, if you didn’t know what city you were watching your TV from, you just might need help identifying when the annoying test was over…

Elementary, my dear Dumbass.

Elementary, my dear Dumbass.

In 1997, the FCC got bored and wanted to create a new acronym, so they replaced the Emergency Broadcast System with the Emergency Alert System.  The EAS was superior to the EBS because it contained not just one, but two fucking annoying signals…

Great!  Now we get the old EBS tone sandwiched in between triplets of damn electronic crickets!  The nukes are going to be a welcome sight after having to listen to that every week for all eternity…

Here’s an interesting tidbit… in the 50+ years the United States has had the EBS/EAS system, it have never actually been activated for an actual national emergency.  Not once.  In five decades!  You mean all those tests and spine tingling tones were for naught?


You only did this just to fuck with us all, right?

And why should it?  Its original purpose was the give the President a quick forum to speak to the nation, as well as to provide a single broadcast that could be seen everywhere to swiftly brief the public on emergency events.  But really, who needs that nowadays with the 24 hour news cycle, media outlets rushing to be the first to report new information, and all of the amateur “reporters” that social media has made out of everyone.  Hell, you could probably find out about a nuclear attack on Twitter before the EAS could even finish its string of cricket calls…

GASP!  Justin Bieber's in trouble again!  I'm being instructed to tune in to the CNN app.

GASP! Justin Bieber’s in trouble again! I’m being instructed to tune in to the CNN app.

Nostalgia isn’t just about the things that made the good old days so good, it’s also about the memories that were not so pleasant.  We at The Nest would like to thank the civil defense minded folks at the FCC who gave us the weekly intrusion known as the Emergency Broadcast System test by conducting a test of our own.  This is ONLY A TEST!  We would also like to remind you that The Nest serves the greater WordPress metropolitan area, and that had this been an actual emergency, official information, news, and instructions would have followed… like in this real EAS activation at a Montana station just last year that was the result of clever hackers:

This concludes this test of The Nest’s Flashback Friday Broadcast System.




About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
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30 Responses to This Is Only A Test!

  1. NotAPunkRocker says:

    How nice you live in a county/city that the little computer voice can probably pronounce properly. That voice always freaked me out more than the beep noise.

    • Well, if you’re referring to the Chicago EAS YouTube I posted, that’s just the first example I found to embed here. I live in that vast expanse of Illinois that Chicagoans like to refer to as “downstate”, or essentially anyplace other than the Chicago area.

      I think all computer voices are creepy sounding..

      • NotAPunkRocker says:

        Ah, didn’t think of that. I like when they take the three-syllable name of the town I grew up in and make it four or more.

        Pronounce the words correctly, HAL.

  2. Twindaddy says:

    I hate that damned noise. I’m not sure what’s worse, that horrid sound, or fingernails being rakes across a chalkboard.

  3. markbialczak says:

    Doesn’t it reassure you that everybody watching ‘Maury’ on TV will know at the same, exact time that they are doomed, ESN? Seriously, though, you’d think that they may have used the damned thing during 9/11 or Katrina, wouldn’t you?

    • I don’t know why they even bother anymore given that the reason it wasn’t activated during 9/11 was because the regular media were getting the story out faster than the government could have if they used the EAS. It seems like an obsolete program other than its current use to broadcast local weather warnings…

  4. merbear74 says:

    I was brought back to my living room…circa 1983…hiding under the coffee table….so, thanks for that. Only a test…bite me. 🙂

  5. We have a local version of EBS that the cable channel runs at least once every 24 hours, including loud buzzing, flashing. Televisionus interruptus. Is our local cable carrier going to alert the nation when the UFOs land on the common?

    • It sucks when the cable companies run the test, because they automatically flip over to the “designated channel” while the test was running, which on our cable system is the shopping network. They used to always run the test when Sci Fi was airing Twilight Zone, and it pissed me off!

  6. fanrosa says:

    Big Whoop…..if you were ancient and justified like “some” people, you’d remember those huge horns all over town that would blow for like five minutes at noon on the first day of the month? the last Friday of the month? I’ve blocked it out. What made it worse was that one of them was right at the end of our block. Right next to the railroad tracks for the Rock Island Line that ran behind our house. Yes, I am a perfect country song….

    I’m going past there tomorrow on the way to my mom’s to see if that big tall pole is still there. Maybe there’ will be a squirrel on top of it! If so, expect an entry for next week’s SS.

    • You think I’m not old enough to remember the horns? A lot of cities around here still have them. GC went to a voice system about 10 years ago, so when there’s a tornado warning, we get to hear a computer voice screech at us to “TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY!!!!” The police department can also broadcast over them, as they informed the city of the boil order put into effect after the massive storm that destroyed the power grid a while back…

  7. 1jaded1 says:

    LofuckingL..This is only a test. When I worked in the city, we had one of those tests. Our task was to make our way one floor down in the hi-rise. Well, the door stuck and we couldn’t make it down. I told my coworkers that it was nice knowing them.

    I’m in the suburbs now…our work had another drill…step away from the Windows kiddies and all will be fine. When push came to shove, we ended up pretty much barricaded in a shelter.

    • Reminds me of the very first fire drill we had at Mecca while I was there. We were supposed to go out the nearest fire exit… which for me was right in the area I was working in. Out of all of us who met up at that door, none of us could get it open. Nice to know we the emergency door was as good as locked if a real emergency would have popped up…

  8. gentlestitches says:

    HaHa! We don’t have this type of organic matter over here. if something goes wrong Karen shouts over the back fence but we still know all about ‘duck and cover!” 🙂

  9. draliman says:

    We don’t have one of those. I think there was mention of tweeting when there’s an emergency though. In that case I guess if you don’t have a smartphone you get to die in blissful ignorance,

    The problem with something getting tested so often is that people end up ignoring it all together. Like when the fire alarm went off at work a couple of weeks ago and we all just sat at our desks shouting “is this a test?” at each other over the noise.

    • To your last point, you are definitely right! A few years ago, the National Weather Service decided to be more aggressively proactive with issuing tornado warnings. I can recall numerous times where our warning sirens went off telling us to TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY when the skies weren’t the least bit threatening and all the bad weather was going around us, or already past us! Needless to say, the sirens started getting ignored since they were going off so often…. and of course, we got hit by two twisters in 2011 after having none pass through the city since 1985!

  10. Lynda says:

    Your post is funny, and I do remember these tests. Strangely, I never remember being alarmed in the least. I remember the teacher pulling the huge blackout curtains over the windows while we were hiding under desks too.

    Now this is hilarious… My husband was in the kitchen and I am in my studio down the hall. He heard the EBS beep from the videos above and exclaimed, “UH-OH!” He then ran into my studio to see what was going on! I guess he was well programmed as a child, because I can’t even get him to come to dinner while it’s still warm when he is GAMING! 😯

  11. C.K. Hope says:

    The Montana hacker video, that was freakin hysterical!

    My parents dog hears that stupid emergency broadcast noise and no matter where in the house she is you can hear her nails scampering across the floorboards until she crashes into the bathroom and wraps herself around the toilet. Whenever I need a laugh I pull up the sound files of it online and play it for her 😉

  12. Jerrod says:

    I remember on a couple of occasions back in the late 80’s, when a tornado touchdown was very close in the area, the tone on the TV was completely different from the normal EBS screech tone from a general watch or warning EAS (EBS) tone that you hear during tests or emergencies. Almost like a “take cover” type of signal, which was way different than a normal tone. I’ve not been able to find the tone online, but it was so crazy sounding that I can’t even begin to describe in words what it sounded like and scared the complete crap out of me as a kid. I’ve not been able to locate a sound bite anywhere on the web of it, all I have found is the normal EAS/EBS screech warning tones. This one was completely different from the normal beeping and screeching heard during tests and actual emergencies. I had nightmares for years, and the tone was so wicked sounding, it always made me mentally visualize the TV spinning end over end, and sounded like the damn TV was going to explode.

    • Jerrod says:

      Sidenote: I grew up in Mahomet (Champaign-Urbana area), so I was in the down-state Illinois area you referred to in your response to the first comment in this thread 😉

    • I’m unaware of any different emergency tone, nor came across any mention of an alternate tone during my research for this post… perhaps it was specific to one of your local stations as a way to alert the public of a tornado warning? I know that the EBS was generally not used for severe weather warnings… that usage didn’t come about until the EAS system in the 90’s.

      From your description, though, I’d love to hear that tone if you ever do find it. Sounds like the perfect tone to put with that “zombie warning” from Montana…

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