Playing this illegal sound on TV means a $500,000 fine

Broadcaster Fox facing a big fine over the use of an emergency sound

The broadcast of an emergency sound has landed broadcaster Fox with a hefty fine from the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The network has been accused of using the attention signal sound from the Emergency Alert System (EAS) – which is used as a warning system in the country in the case of a national emergency – as part of an advertisement.

The EAS system is traditionally able to take over any TV or radio across the country, broadcasting a message from the President of the United States.


However, the FCC has issued Fox with a notice of apparent liability of forfeiture over their use of a three-second clip of the sound in November 2021 for “a short comedic advertisement for an upcoming game, aired as part of the FOX NFL SUNDAY pre-game show”.

Fox network logo
Fox network logo. CREDIT: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

The use of the sound is illegal, however, in order to preserve “the unique purpose and effectiveness of the EAS Tones” – meaning that it is banned from wider use in order to stop citizens becoming desensitized to it, as it is only used in catastrophic situations.

As part of the notice to Fox, the FCC said they found them responsible for “broadcasting the Promotional Segment containing the EAS Tones” on many of its stations.

They added: “Despite being shorter in duration than the full EAS Tones, the three-second EAS Tone used in the Promotional Segment possessed the same dual-tone frequency, pitch, and timbre as the actual EAS Tones, and was recognizable by viewers or listeners as substantially similar to the EAS Tones.

FCC headquarters
FCC headquarters. CREDIT: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo


“The Promotional Segment’s ‘comedic tone’ also did not alter or neutralize its overall effect of falsely warning listeners and viewers of a non-existent emergency, as the EAS Tones were clearly audible, cognizable, and appropriated for a non-emergency use.

“This manner of appropriation of the EAS Tones is exactly the type of simulation that the Commission’s rules seek to address and prohibit in order to avoid diluting the EAS Tones’ real meaning over time.”

As such, they have been fined $504,000 (£407,226) over “apparent egregious violation of section 11.45(a) of the Commission’s rules”.

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