Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why The Phenomenal Failure of Today's Test Doesn't Bother Me

Inside game, outside game.

The world, in the 1930's, was entirely different from the world we face today. The intercontinental railroad had its first intercontinental railroad completed in 1869. Just twenty years earlier, Morse code was developed, shortening, again, intercontinental distances. (The first intercontinental that worked, was laid in 1866.)

So, in the 1930's, the first rules of wired and wireless communication were adopted. In 1934, the Communications Act was passed. Here is where I adopt a statist solution. Wireless transmission occurs because there are parts of the Spectrum that are good for different things. Some spectra are better suited for light emission. Some spectra are better suited for radio transmission. Without regulation of spectra usage, some of the benefits of electronic communication would be lost in a hash of noise. Imagine road builders without a regulator. Anyone can build a road, at any place, at any time, at any location. I own fifty acres, want to build homes and decide to put my roads in without any sense of current traffic patterns. I may rate my new roads as "safe" and/or "dangerous," but the fact is, some roads should not be built. It's why we pay governments. To regulate certain activities. With radio communications, which include television, communication links that you may not be aware of (since you don't own a receiver on those frequencies), fire and weather signals, and wireless internet, imagine a world where anyone could build a transmitter on any frequency chosen, without any central coordination.

The Spectrum also is used by such things as radar. If you fly, you would want to know that the part of the spectrum that is used by radar isn't being used simultaneously by an entrepreneurial broadcaster. Attempting to play his (or her) idea of socially conscious radio. Without some type of agreed upon regulation, spectra could be used that can kill others. As we move into adopting greater applications of digital media, the use of spectra increases, and there are definite advantages to adopting digital technologies. For one, digital technologies that make sense require less bandwidth. The usable Spectrum, being limited, is being challenged for use by alternative technologies, some of which haven't even been created.

What was attempted today, was pure, political hubris.

What was attempted was, a national activation of the Emergency Alert System.

It was, as predicted, a total cluster. Of the worst possible kind.

It was an attempt to both exceed the capabilities of the system, and an attempt to further the idea that centrally controlled information was better than that of its constituent parts. An example:

On March 11th, of this year, a Tsunami Warning was issued for the West Coast. The warning was issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What most of us know of as, the weather guys. Under the rules of NOAA, the warning was issued once.

That was sufficient. At that point, radio stations and television stations across the country were informed of an impending tsunami event. Television and radio stations turned their eyes and ears on the forthcoming, possible disaster, and began sharing with their viewers and listeners information on the dangers of the impending tsunami. In my home town, the tsunami was predicted to occur between 0725 and 0730 hours. Until 0720 hours, we retained control of our studios, which were locate on the possible tsunami zone. We transmitted information about the possible size and intensity of the potential event, up to the edge of personal threat. (During past tsunami events, given the source and intensity of the event, we've maintained studio presence up to and including the estimated time of event.)

Two thoughts occur; one, privately owned broadcasters gave the most, current, usable information in the market, for the longest period of time possible, free; second, we used current, contemporaneous information in the pursuit of providing our listeners, or viewers, the greatest possible amount of information available, again, at no cost. This is why the effort to provide a national Emergency Event Activation is a horse with no legs. Market forces will determine whether or not the radio or television station you're listening or watching is worth listening or watching.

Because, responsible operators will make sure that the mission of either a television station or radio station is, to serve the community interest. And somehow, kids, the imminent destruction of ones local community seems to be of paramount importance.

I've been through a couple of wars. The last two, which involved the Middle East, were well carried by all of my broadcast stations. For those of you who forget, following the decision to correct the Iraq invasion into Kuwait, my stations went to a wartime footing, with twenty-four hour coverage of events in the Middle East. Were we required to do so? No.

Then, after 9/11, we had the invasion of Afghanistan. Again, twenty-four hour coverage. Required? No.

Then the invasion of Iraq.

Can you guess what happened? Of course you can. People want information, and under the Rules promulgated in the 1930's, broadcasters are required to provide information in the "community interest." But if you had a television station, or radio station, would you ignore the perils facing your community? People love information, and the internets aside, there are only two mediums suited to provide you with local information, twenty-four hours a day; television and radio. Television and radio have the resources, the connectivity and the reliability to provide you with the information you need, now. The attempt to impose a centrally produced "message" was idiotic at its inception. Broadcasters, whether television or radio, know what their responsibilities are. In the past week I've spent more than twenty hours of my personal time in the last week, preparing for this national event. Should it have worked? Prolly not. It would have been faster to have called press conference. Or, sent an e-mail to some folks. Who would have called other folks.

The desire to demand compliance from the broadcast community is comic. Since using the community is easier than that attempted today. If you have a message, you announce the message. As the wire conveys the message, the message is promulgated. Independent broadcasters do the independent thing; determine whether or not the message is important to the local area, or not. If important, live people with real cameras and microphones get on air and talk. If not? It may make an item on the evening or morning news. There are filters. Important? On air. Unimportant? Mebbe mentioned.

That, my friends, is the marketplace of ideas. What is important is forwarded. Can you guess what is not forwarded? (The unimportant. You should have said it. I wouldn't have.)

Broadcasters, whether television or radio, know that they have a responsibility. That it is part of the original Communications Act isn't important. Broadcasters have a contract, unspoken, with their viewers, listeners. We will provide you with information that you need, when the information becomes available.

Inside the game, we all have upgraded our equipment in the last ten months (recently extended into next year) in order to provide viewers/listeners with emergency information. Inside the game, there aren't any audio engineers available to the United States national government, or the Federal Communication Commission who understand audio propagation. This was a cluster**** of the first order. It would have been cheaper, quicker and easier to have alerted "the media" of an important announcement. Your broadcasters would have been involved, given personal and local treatment of the announcement, and more importantly, done it without the intrusion of selected believes of what would be important to my viewers/listeners. Not everything important at the "national" level is important locally. Remember, the Communications Act of 1934 had a dual purpose: an understanding that there was limited spectrum for radio use; and that the use of that spectrum, as limited by the limits of the available spectra, should be the service of the communities provided service by the use of that spectra.

Few broadcasters argue the point.

But what we've seen today.

And, then comes the feedback.

Los Angeles
What we received was very noisy, hardly intelligible and cut in and out,
basically useless!  Then at the end, the long tail of dead air....

Sage units (all four) decided not to send the audio out. The test was
triggered just no audio.  No Audio Limit. ABORT was on the message display.

We were listening to the PEP  and never heard it there.

Aired the alert tones, but NO audio! Was that way from the LP-1 station.

Both stations received the test, along with the audio, it went flawless
there.  No report on audio quality.

South LA
On air from the transmitter plant was a lot more than noise and low audio
issues. The recording itself cut out a couple times played half way though
then restarted, playing half way through again till it cut out and went to
dead air. All during the message we received control tones over the message,
seems their audio and control was stuck in a loop or something.

very noisy, hardly intelligible and cut in and out.

Got the whole EAS message, with tones, IN SPANISH!!!!

St. Louis
repeating audio and tones which made it quite a mess. 
The rules require broadcasters to report today, the impact of the national test. But for hours, the FCC website was broken. And these are the guys who are attempting to take over control of the internet.

Some things don't need to be controlled. Spectrum usage? Sure. Content? Nope. Although, the FCC is creating rules to control content. What is the role of government? Is it to control content? or, to manage those things that governments are uniquely qualified to control? What should a television station, or radio station, carry over it's signal? Should that content be controlled by the federal government, or its agency, the FCC? Increasingly, the FCC is working to control content. I would suggest, it is signally unable to do so. It's mission, to regulate the use of spectra.

Where, and when, was it authorize by Congress to control content?


MAX Redline said...

Where, and when, was it authorize by Congress to control content?

I believe that happened today, when all Republicans voted Yea on a Senate measure to rein in the FCC on this issue - and all 52 Democrats voted Neigh. Asses.

ZZMike said...

Early on in your piece you mention the difference in efficiency between a 1:N (for large N) and a 1:K:L:M... tree.

Have they no influence over the MSM media (CNN &c) that they couldn't say "OK, guys, how about at 3:17 pm you cut to the Warning Message"?

Unless, of course, it would pre-empt Oprah or Stumbling With the Stars or whatever reality show is current.

Just how many (%-wise) were watching when this went out?

"And these are the guys who are attempting to take over control of the internet."

Scariest thing I've heard all year (And it's November).

Robin said...

I think one of the sad things really is that a lot of people such as Lars Larson was expecting (and hoping) that it would fail especially with all the hype that was given to it.

The sad part... is that it pretty much did fail.

The bigger picture is that around the world we looked pretty silly and vulnerable to our enemies in my opinion.

But then again, even in our own eyes as US citizens we don't believe that our government has the capability to set politics aside to actually do their job and protect the country.