Friday, January 4, 2008


During the cold war, Americans were taught to rely on the Emergency Broadcast System for emergency information on such trivialities as nuclear attack. Most of the people in Dallas turned to KLIF news for their radio news and information on EBS alerts.

When KLIF radio's news department was notified of an emergency alert test, the newsperson receiving the off the air alert notification had to verify whether it was a test or the real thing. There would be a code word in the alert that was to be compared to a code word in a sealed envelope provided to all stations across the country. This code word would verify the validity of the notification's being either a test, or the end of the world.

I was the only newsman on duty on a weekend, in 1970 or 1971 or thereabouts when a seemingly routine EBS alert was issued.
This alert meant that if I opened the envelope and if the word "Impish" from the alert I received matched the word in the sealed envelope, it was time give the nuclear attack warning to the public and then to kiss everything goodbye.

The KLIF and KNUS studios and downtown Dallas were 25 or so miles, as the crow flies, from Carswell Air Force Base. Carswell was a Strategic Air Command B52 base, from which we always had nuclear armed B 52 bombers flying in the air worldwide. It was a cherry of a bull's eye for Soviet Thermonuclear bombs. 25 miles is no distance at all for a couple of 100 megaton H bombs. If nothing else, Dallas would also get a big nuke tossed at it just for good summertime Soviet nuclear fun.

I opened the sealed envelope and saw the code word "Impish" written on it. That definately was the code word corresponding to the day's date on the alert then. Seeing the codeword "Impish" on the alert, and the corresponding code word "Impish" on the code word list confirmed that this was not a test. Hmmmmm. Not good.

I went into the KLIF control room and showed the DJ on duty the confirming paperwork. We were trying to decide what to do. Do we broadcast this nuclear alert? Is it real? Will it send the city into a panic, whether it is real or not? Is there some government official we can call to verify that this is real? Well, no there isn't. Do we hang around here, or is it time to hit the road?

Making an executive decision, we decided that we were not going to run this nuclear attack alert. I did not believe it was real. Neither did the Jock, who I believe was Weaver Morrow. It was authentic, and from the U.S. Government, but was it real? There is a difference.

I had this gut feeling that there was a mistake. It wasn't just an optimistic, head in the sand belief, it was a genuine belief. It was just a gut feeling. Even so, what did it matter if we broadcast a nuclear attack warning to an unsuspecting Dallas population? When you heard it over the radio, you had a minute or two to dig or get into the biggest hole you could find before eternity set in from an unexpected bright midday sunrise or two in the western skies in the direction of Carswell AFB?

We called the program and news director after deciding the alert was bogus, and they seconded our decision not to broadcast it yet.

A few minutes later, the U.P.I teletype machines were ringing constantly with a news alert like a frantic hotel guest at the front desk looking for the concierge. The U.P.I was confriming whether or not we would be seeing nightfall this evening. The tension was as thick as Grandma's molasses (as Dan Rather might have said) in the fabled KLIF newsroom as the story began to be printed on the newswire. The breaking story began to arrive, "Bulletin.....Bulletin.....Bulletin..... The Emergency Broadcast System sounded an emergency alert warning today........"

The United Press International teletype news wire service said that the Emergency Broadcast system had experienced a malfunction. Someone had accidentally entered the incorrect codeword on the alert that radio stations from coast to coast received today. There would be no thermonuclear attack, at least, not that day.

It may be discomforting to those of use who depend on the EBS alert system today to find out that about 70 percent of the radio and TV stations from coast to coast disregarded the Emergency Broadcast Alert, and did not air it as we chose not to.

Fortunately, there have been some major changes made in the alert system to prevent this from happening again.

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