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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Scariest Thing I Remember From Childhood Television

You know, when I was a kid, there were a few things that I had a bit of a fear of.  In a lot of ways, I suppose that I was a lot like Chuckie Finster from the Nickelodeon cartoon "Rugrats" in that I loved to explore the world, but I didn't want to get hurt doing it.

I think that I was one of those rare kids who actually loved playing outside in the winter months moreso than the summer months.  Because in winter, all of the things that I didn't like in the summer months were either covered in mounds of snow, or stayed down south between the months of December and March.

In the summer, I was a little more cautious.  I almost drowned in a swimming pool when I was four, which lead to a fear of deep water which lasted for approximately seventeen years until I learned how to swim...and even then, I doubt that I'll be doing any scuba diving any time soon.  I used to be afraid of bees, wasps, and hornets after one stung me in between the toes when I was seven.  These days, I think bees are cool, and should be protected, given that they are dying off in record numbers.  However, I would not be too sad to see every wasp and hornet die off.  Those pests are evil.  And, don't even get me started on thistle bushes and all sharp pointy plants.  Unbeknownst to me, I found out the hard way that my backyard was overrun with them the one day I decide to walk through the yard in nothing but bare feet.

(Since that day, I always make sure I wear shoes outdoors.)

I mean, I understand that fear is subjective, and some of us have more rational fears than others.  I mean, more often than not, you have people who are afraid of snakes, spiders, heights, and dying young.  And, then you have me who still has a strong dislike of balloons popping that I have to actually have my iPod on full blast before I can pop one.

(And don't judge.  Please don't judge.  We all have our quirks.  That one happens to be mine.)

But, I should also note that I'm no longer fearful of most of the things that I was afraid of as a child.  Good thing too.  It would make for quite an isolating experience, wouldn't you agree?

I mean, there was one terrifying experience that I remember having when I was a child, and had I not outgrown that fear, I likely would have never watched television ever again!

You see, there was one particular thing that took place on television every month or so from the time I was born until the time that I was approximately sixteen.  And, by the time I was sixteen, I was completely over this scary sight on television.  But when I was a little kid and I saw this event take place on television, I would cower in fear.  Back in the days in which I was a toddler, televisions didn't come with mute buttons.

Or maybe they did on the remote control...thing is that my parents never owned a television with a remote control until the late 1980s, as I grew up with working class roots.  Not that it mattered.  At that age, I probably didn't know what the word "mute" even meant.

The point is that this particular television event used to scare me something fierce.  That sound was enough to make me want to throw all of my toys out of my toy box and just hide in there until it was all over.

Even though it only lasted thirty seconds at the most, it was easily the most terrifying thing that I have ever seen and heard.  It got to the point where whenever my mom would watch her soap operas ("The Young and the Restless", "As The World Turns", "Guiding Light", and "Capitol"), I would make it a mission not to be anywhere near the room because I always knew that the odds of seeing this terrifying spectacle was higher during the hours of daytime television.

So, what the heck could I see on television that would make me panic so much that I would avoid it at all costs?  Was it a scary cartoon character?  Was it a violent television series?  Was it the sound of the little yodeler dude plummeting off the cliff on "The Price Is Right" pricing game "Cliff Hangers"?

Actually, it was this.

The Emergency Broadcast System.  The warning system put in place for at least three decades.  The bane of my existence as a toddler.

Oh, I hated the EBS.  I hated it with the intensity of ten thousand halogen light bulbs.

I mean, that sound?  That sound was absolutely one of the scariest things that I have ever heard.  And the worst part about the test was that it did not occur at the same time every single time they did one of these tests.  It would air whenever the affiliate felt like it, and more often than not, I was surprised by it more times than I would have liked.

I couldn't quite comprehend why I hated that sound so much when I was a child at the time, and upon retrospect, I suppose that had I known the real reason behind the EBS and why it was implemented, I would have had more of a reason to fear it.

So, I suppose this is the time of the blog in which I explain what the Emergency Broadcast System was.  And, I will do that now.

Now, the Emergency Broadcast System was actually a replacement warning system for the CONELRAD system put in place during the height of the Cold War in 1951.

(CONELRAD standing for Control of Electromagnetic Radiation).

In August of 1963, CONELRAD became a more generic warning system, and was changed to the Emergency Broadcast System.  Initially when CONELRAD was founded, it was done with the purpose of warning citizens of any incoming attacks from the Soviet Union.  But by 1963, the focus slightly changed to include national crises that were taking place and severe weather warnings. 

That meant that if a hurricane was approaching, the EBS would sound loudly in the affected areas, as well as a vocal recording explaining the situation.  If an earthquake shook up a large city, you can bet that car radios would soon feature something like the warning below on both the AM and FM dials.

Yep.  That sound still kind of gives me goose bumps, even years later.  I mean, granted this was a mock-up that some random YouTuber made up, but still I suppose it would sound somewhat similar.

And, if, say...a series of riots broke out in the middle of a gigantic city like Los Angeles during the spring of 1992...well, the EBS had you covered.  Take a look at this broadcast from April 30, 1992 - right around the time of the Los Angeles racial riots.

Scary sights, no?  I remember being a ten year old boy watching the coverage of those riots and being completely horrified at some of the images that I was seeing on the television screen.  And yet, had I been a little bit younger, I would have been more freaked out by the high pitched noise from the EBS!  Funny how life works as a child, doesn't it?

Anyway, between 1963 and 1996, it is estimated that the EBS was activated at least twenty thousand times by network affiliates for mostly testing purposes, but occasionally they would be used for local weather happenings.  And it should be noted that in the EBS' thirty-four year history, the EBS was never activated nationally for a crisis affecting the United States.

Well...actually, it was...accidentally.

If you were around on February 20, 1971 at around 9:33am, you may have bore witness to an accidental broadcast of the EBS.  Apparently, a teletype operator by the name of W.S. Eberhardt accidentally played the wrong tape during a routine test of the EBS and what he inadvertedly did was broadcast the EBS signal coast to coast from California to Maine, indicating that a national emergency was taking place!  Fortunately, the whole hullabaloo lasted a grand total of 40 minutes before being cancelled, however it did serve some purpose.  It showed that there were still some bugs to work out in the system, as many stations never received the signal, and those that did mostly ignored it, believing that it was only a test.  Only about 20% of all television stations in the United States heeded the warning, which would actually be kind of pathetic - especially if it were a real live emergency.

But luckily, the EBS never had to be used for such a national disaster.  It was featured in fictional apocalyptic films such as "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Day After", but it was never used for a real emergency...which was good, as it would have made me fear it a lot more.

But all things come to an end, and an updated system known currently as the Emergency Alert System was put into place on January 1, 1997 - effectively broadening the coverage, making warnings appear quicker, and allowing the president of the United States to address the nation within ten minutes.

And the best part about the EAS?  The sound became a lot less annoying and scary.  At least, to me anyway.

1 comment:

  1. You know the eas uses the same beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep as the ebs tests right