The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking to fine Fox, a US media giant, $504,000 for using the Emergency Alert System (EAS) attention tone to promote an NFL show on dozens of TV channels. The use of the EAS tone, which is a well-known illegal sound that many film and television productions have been fined over, is prohibited by the FCC in order to prevent people from becoming desensitized to something that should only be heard in the most dire of circumstances.
During the Cold War, the government devised a radio system to alert the entire country to disaster, man-made or otherwise. This began in 1951 as the Control of Electromagnetic Radiation System (CONELRAD), where air defense control centers would transmit a message to key radio stations around the country by special telephone lines. These stations would then alert smaller radio stations, which would begin broadcasting the message themselves or go offline.
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The use of the EAS tone is prohibited to prevent people becoming desensitized to something you should only hear in the most dire circumstances. “To preserve the unique purpose and effectiveness of the EAS Tones, the Commission enforces laws that prohibit their use or simulation, except for specific permitted uses,” the FCC said.
But according to the FCC’s notice of apparent liability for forfeiture, Fox admitted to using a three-second clip of the attention tone, pulled off YouTube, in a “a short comedic advertisement for an upcoming game, aired as part of the FOX NFL SUNDAY pre-game show” in November 2021. The FCC deemed Fox’s ad to be an “egregious” and “willful” violation of FCC rules and proposed a forfeiture of $504,000.
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It is worth mentioning that the FCC has also fined other major entities in the past for using the EAS attention tone, such as Hollywood action film Olympus Has Fallen ($1.9 million in 2014) and Jimmy Kimmel Live ($395,000 in 2019). Even if the tone was used for comedy, the FCC will fail to see the funny side and will enforce the rules in order to preserve the unique purpose and effectiveness of the EAS Tones.