FCC fines iHeartMedia $1 million over false emergency alerts

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The logo of iHeartMedia, formerly Clear Channel Radio. [Photo: Supplied]

The logo of iHeartMedia, formerly Clear Channel Radio. [Photo: Supplied]

iHeartMedia, the broadcast conglomerate formerly known as Clear Channel Radio, has been fined $1 million by the Federal Communications Commission after dozens of its radio stations falsely broadcast emergency tones that triggered alerts in a handful of states.

The fine stems from an incident last year in which WSIX-FM morning show host Bobby Bones aired a series of emergency alert tones during a commentary on a FCC-approved test that ran during a World Series baseball game.

According to the FCC, during the commentary, Bones aired a clip of Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones from an event in 2011.

In some radio markets, iHeartMedia-owned stations serve as the central hub and main distributor for emergency alert messages. Those iHeartMedia-owned stations broadcast the message out on their frequency, which are listened to by other radio and television stations in town; those stations then re-broadcast the test or emergency message to their audience.

Some stations that carry Bones’ morning show in syndication also serve as re-distributors of EAS messages, and the audio recording broadcast on the show triggered “a multi-state cascade of false EAS alerts,” the FCC said.

The agency said iHeartMedia “took steps both internal and external to prevent further transmissions of an EAS code.” The FCC cited a letter written by a Clear Channel executive to a FCC official as proof that the media organization took action once they discovered the EAS melee; the exact action is not known because the contents of the letter were not made publicly available.

The FCC prohibits broadcasters from airing EAS tones in any context other than when government officials or another body specifically request it in an emergency context or for a sanctioned test.

“The public counts on EAS tones to alert them to actual emergencies,” said FCC official Travis LeBlanc. “Misuse of the Emergency Alert System jeopardizes the nation’s public safety, falsely alarms the public and undermines confidence in the [system].”

The fine comes with a stipulation that iHeartMedia will comply with a three-year audit of their use of the EAS. The company must also immediately remove recordings of simulated or actual EAS tones from their sound libraries and soundboards.