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The Inside Story of Radio’s “Singing EBS Test”

L.A. Air Force

Recently, someone asked why L.A. Air Force‘s legendary Singing EBS Test isn’t included in the 3-CD Cheap Radio Thrills package.

It’s been decades since my late friend Terry Moss debuted his creation for radio personalities and listeners around the world: the first volume of what became a 5-LP series, Cheap Radio Thrills.

As any old American DJ will confirm, for many years radio stations were required to broadcast periodic tests of the Emergency Broadcast System. Here’s what the listener would hear:

For the next 60 seconds, this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The following is only a test.

That would be followed by this test tone:

Then the announcer would return to say:

 

This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and federal, state, and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news, or instructions. This station serves the [ ] area. This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

Invariably the jock would read that copy in a monotone, there’d be silence, then the test tone, then the jock would return to read the close with the same disinterested inflection.

Terry decided to change all that — with these two cuts from Cheap Radio Thrills. Here’s the introduction:

After the intro, the test tone would be broadcast. Then this cut would be played, complete with a donut for the announcer to read the boilerplate copy that begins, “The broadcasters of your area…”

Question: As a listener, which test would you be more likely to pay attention to? The one delivered in the bored monotone, or the musical version?

Clearly far more people would actually listen to the musical rendition — which really upset the FCC. People actually paying attention to the E.B.S. tests??

So in its infinite wisdom, the FCC decreed that the Emergency Broadcast System test could not be sung.

After all, you don’t want citizens to actually listen to the instructions which, “in a genuine emergency,” might save their lives.

We omitted it from the CD versions because we didn’t want any stations to see it, assume it must be okay to broadcast, broadcast it and ultimately get in trouble with the FCC.

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