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Companies keep getting fined for playing fake emergency alert tones

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The FCC is fining yet another broadcaster for playing the Emergency Alert System tone when it shouldn't have. The latest fine, being issued today, is for $1 million from iHeartCommunications, which played the tone during an October broadcast of "The Bobby Bones Show," a major country music show. This is the fifth action over the misuse of the alert system in just six months, suggesting the commission is serious about preventing its misuse. In particular, it's concerned that people will start to ignore the tone if they believe it's often used in false circumstances, leading to potential safety issues when an actual warning arrives. iHeartCommunications has agreed to pay the fine.

A talk show host was discussing emergency alert interruptions

As with prior incidents, this one is appropriately ridiculous. According to the FCC, Bones was complaining about how a cable network he was watching had interrupted a critical moment in the World Series in order to play an emergency alert test. He then proceeded to play a clip of the emergency alert sound — unfortunately, he played a version of the emergency alert tone that's meant to set off a cascade of emergency alert interruptions. Radio, TV, and satellite providers monitor for that tone, and Bones' playback of it led to many interrupting their own programming to play the emergency alert tone, too. The FCC says the playback set "off a multi-state cascade of false EAS alerts on radios and televisions."

Previous misuses of the emergency alert tone include using it in an advertisement for Conan and in an advertisement for the movie Olympus Has Fallen, which is about a terrorist attack on the White House. In those cases, TBS was fined $25,000, and Viacom and ESPN were fined a total of $1.4 million