The air staff at WFMU has grown accustomed to the electronic ravings of our Emergency Alert System unit. Periodically, it starts spitting out nonsense about an officially sanctioned "Unknown Event" which we are duty-bound to inform the public about, under penalty of federal fines. Then of course, there was that certain Tuesday in September when the unit didn't utter a peep, because (as the FCC told us later) certain emergencies (like truths) are "self-evident."
This is the $3,000 unit that the federal government forced us to purchase and install in our main studio so that the WFMU staff could keep you, the public, informed in the event of an emergency. (The fact that the likes of us are entrusted with such a duty should tell you something about the system's shortcomings right there.) But this past weekend, our beloved EAS unit pulled a fast one on us. It issued a "Civil Emergency Message" issued by "A Civil Authority." Glen Jones was perplexed enought to call me at home about it. Announce it, I advised, and announce it Jones did. We had to announce it - that's the law. But what was the civil emergency - was Canada invading at last? Flaming hailstones? A mysterious odor? And who was the mysterious civil authority making this mysterious pronouncement - the governor? The mayor? The dogcatcher? Ours was not to understand - as broadcasters, we are merely proxies for passing on this momentous piece on non-information to the public at large, the better to quell public fears and sow utter confusion.
Checking the news later, it would be fair to assume that the civil emergency was related to the flooding caused by this weekend's rains. In which case it might have been useful to warn people of something specific, like.. flooding. But the flood warnings ceased a while before the civil emergency warnings began. Ah well. At least it wasn't an "unknown event."
Maybe next time, for clarity's sake, we'll throw on Johnny Cash's German language version of Five Feet High and Rising. (MP3).