I was tooling up the highway yesterday, somewhere in the vicinity of Stockton, CA. I have music on my phone, but I thought while I was around civilization I’d check the airwaves. I’d found a station that at least for a moment didn’t suck, and all was well with the world.
Suddenly: a grating series of beeps that sounded like they’d been put through a blender assaulted my ears. This is the attention tone for the Emergency Broadcasting System. Those beeps were followed by a long purer tone. Then another tone at a different pitch. Lesson one for the EBS: Quit with all the tones. I almost turned off my radio, figuring that there wasn’t going to be any information, just some sort of beep-fest. The only thing that kept me listening was the bank of thunderheads looming ahead of me. Just this once, the EBS might be giving out useful information.
Finally the broadcast tired of the beeping and booping and hit me with a burst of static. From within this noise, a distorted voice that sounded like it had been bouncing through phone lines since 1920 began dispensing… what? I don’t know. It was completely incomprehensible. Lesson two for the EBS: the information won’t help anyone if no one can tell what you’re saying. I think I picked out the word “alpine” and later “water”. That’s about it.
Flash floods? Possibly. Were they anywhere near where I was heading? No way to tell. Was there something I should do differently? Only one way to find out. I drove on.
I had the top down, so I was not in ideal listening conditions, but I could understand all the other people on the radio, all too well. Now there was something I actually wanted to hear, something intended for public safety, and it was just a jumble of noise.
Now it may be that the guy who recorded the message was not in a position to make a high-fidelity recording, but come on. Surely somewhere in this entire damn country there was someone who could have taken one thin minute to re-record the message in better circumstances.