LOS ANGELES — Nearly two years ago, twin FMs in a simulcast aired a weather teaser for its morning show that included a simulation of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) attention signal.
That’s a no-no, and the FCC has now acted against the properties, owned by Meruelo Media.
But, Meruelo was far from alone in its misuse of EAS or Wireless Emergency Alert tones: Episodes of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and Discovery’s “Lone Star Law” are also settling their transgressions with the Commission.
The four settlements, announced Thursday (8/15) by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, are the result of the Bureau’ determination that each aired actual or simulated alert tones, in violation of the Commission’s rules.
The result: some $600,000 in total civil penalties were assessed. A strict compliance plan has been put in place at each of the companies so that such actions do not repeat.
In the fall of 2017, the Commission received a complaint alleging that Meruelo’s KDAY-FM 93.5 in Redondo Beach, Calif., and KDEY-FM 93.5 in Ontario, Calif., had included a simulation of an EAS attention signal in the weather stager for its morning show.
Meruelo timely responded — and requested confidential treatment of certain portions of its responses. Meruelo believes that a former employee created the promo bed used and that a portion of it was taken from a publicly available video clip online.
The voiceover included the text, “Ninety-[T]hree Five, K-DAY. Hip Hop, back in the day. It’s time for Romeo’s romantic weather.” That’s when the EAS tone aired as a sound effect, followed by a pre-produced sample stating that “[t]he National Weather Service has issued …”
On KDAY, the weather teaser aired a total of 106 times between Sept. 8 and Nov. 22, 2017. It also aired 33 times on KDEY, as this station began simulcasting KDAY on Oct. 31, 2017.
The stations stopped broadcasting the Promo Bed in late November 2017 because of a programming decision Meruelo reached prior to receiving the Enforcement Bureau’s Letter of Inquiry.
That said, Meruelo was not absolved of its error, and station management held a meeting with relevant management level and other station staff and provided materials for review of FCC rules and regulations, including those governing the transmission of EAS tones.
The company admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $67,000 civil penalty, and committed to a compliance plan, valid for three years from 60 days after the Consent Decree’s effective date (on or about Oct. 15, 2019).
TV TRIO’S EAS TROUBLES
The costliest civil penalty of the four handed out by the Enforcement Bureau on Thursday goes to ABC Inc. and the American Broadcasting Companies.
On October 3, 2018, ABC broadcast an episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” which used a simulated WEA tone three times during a comedic sketch regarding the then-recent nationwide Presidential WEA test. ABC transmitted the episode nationwide to 250 TV stations, including eight of its owned-and-operated stations, which in turn broadcast the episode in their markets.
ABC admitted to the violation, and explained that the WEA Tones were improperly included in the episode because a “misunderstanding that the use of the tone was permissible” occurred.
It agreed to pay a $395,000 civil penalty while committing to a compliance plan.
For AMC Networks, the Enforcement Bureau took aim at how EAS tones were included twice in a February 2019 airing of the “Omega Episode” of its long-running television program “The Walking Dead.” This was transmitted on eight separate instances across cable and satellite systems nationwide. AMC admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $104,000 civil penalty, and committed to a compliance plan.
Lastly, Discovery’s Animal Planet network broadcast an episode of “Lone Star Law” entitled “Thousand Year Flood,” which included an actual WEA Signal.
The crew was filming Texas Game Wardens following Hurricane Harvey and caught the tone of a real wireless alert received by phones during filming.
Discovery transmitted the episode eight times to cable and satellite systems nationwide from January to March 2018.
Discovery admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $68,000 civil penalty, and committed to a compliance plan.
“The use of actual or simulated EAS tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or public service announcements is a serious public safety concern,” an Enforcement Advisory released Thursday reads. “The FCC’s rules prohibit such broadcasting of EAS tones – including simulations of them – except during actual emergencies, authorized tests or authorized public service announcements. These rules aim to protect the integrity of the alert system by helping to avoid confusion when the tones are used, alert fatigue among listeners, and false activation of the EAS by the operative data elements contained in the alert tones.”