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US Bans Loud Commercials 289

Posted by samzenpus
from the turn-it-down dept.
bs0d3 writes "On Tuesday, the FCC passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM. It's a law that states all commercials must run at the same volume as network newscasts. The same applies to network promos. The responsibility falls on cable providers like Comcast or charter. The law will not take effect until next year which leaves it plenty of time to be challenged in court by cable providers or advertisers."
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US Bans Loud Commercials

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  • by bonch (38532) * on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:13PM (#38377308)

    Great. If only it was 20 years ago and the Internet didn't exist.

    • by danomac (1032160) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:15PM (#38377354)

      It's about time. When TVs and amplifiers come with anti-blasting correction you know it's pretty bad.

      Actually, I wonder how that'll affect mythtv's commercial detection? I know it uses audio as one of its inputs...

      • by cream wobbly (1102689) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:37PM (#38378460)

        TVs and amplifiers come with anti-blasting correction

        Brian Blessed disapproves.

    • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:16PM (#38377362)
      We need the "Caps Lock Annhilation Program" to stop loud posters.
    • by artor3 (1344997) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:33PM (#38377630)

      What does the internet have to do with it? Last time I checked, hundreds of millions of people still watched TV. I agree this law should have come sooner, but it's not as though it's too late to be a good thing. Just like the Do Not Call list was a good thing even though cell phones were already invented.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:39PM (#38377730)

      All of the comments so far are "it's about time," so I'm just going to respond to the first post I see.

      There already was a standard requiring commercials to limit loudness. A commercial could not be louder than the program it was accompanying, which meant it could not be louder than the loudest point in the programming. What that meant is if there was a single gunshot in an hour, your commercials in that hour could be very, very loud. Also, loudness was not weighted. High-pitched ringing and speaking at the same level were considered equally loud, even though human hearing is skewed (A-weighting) to perceive speech as inherently louder.

      So what this really does is 1) re-define what constitutes "loud", and 2) give the process some teeth.

      • by Khopesh (112447) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @10:09PM (#38379324) Homepage Journal

        There already was a standard requiring commercials to limit loudness. A commercial could not be louder than the program it was accompanying, which meant it could not be louder than the loudest point in the programming. What that meant is if there was a single gunshot in an hour, your commercials in that hour could be very, very loud. Also, loudness was not weighted. High-pitched ringing and speaking at the same level were considered equally loud, even though human hearing is skewed (A-weighting) to perceive speech as inherently louder.

        So what this really does is 1) re-define what constitutes "loud", and 2) give the process some teeth.

        Not really. It keys on the average volume of a commercial needing to be the average volume of the show. We don't want averages, we want ReplayGain [wikipedia.org].

        Averages can be gamed quite trivially. Think of a thirty second ad in which the first 25 seconds contain very soft speaking with bits of silence between lines. The CALM Act affords the rest of the ad the luxury of BLASTING the product's tag line at well over the current maximum volume level.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Dogbertius (1333565)
      The bigger problem is working around the requirement by (ab)using the principles of the psycho-acoustic modelling of sound, like with A-weighting and equal-loudness contours.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-loudness_contours [wikipedia.org]

      Essentially, the human ear's perceived intensity at different volumes is frequency dependent. One trick is using an auto-tuner to "shift" audio to nearby frequencies so that the overall loudness (as measured by an ideal microphone) is within the acceptable limits in the proposal
    • I would want a law that bans websites from auto playing anything on load before this law. Whatever, I guess.
  • about freakin time (Score:5, Informative)

    by mug funky (910186) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:13PM (#38377314)

    there's standards for loudness in most countries, but they're completely ignored by the broadcasters. they take an ad that's the correct standard volume and go ahead and turn it up anyway.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Hah, so this means it'll bring the U.S. into the civilized world of... having commercial-loudness standards that nobody follows.

      • If this article [democracyjournal.org] has any bearing in reality, then no. The courts will say this infringes advertisers' freedom of speech and will be struck down.

        Article summary: Freedom of speech is becoming a large stick with which corporations and let-the-market-decide type folks can beat everyone into submission.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          Interesting that one can put "reasonable time-place-and-manner" restrictions on public assembly to petition for redress of grievances, but not on commercial advertising...

        • Last time I checked, TV that carries advertising doesn't fit the definition of "public forum". That would be the public access channel.

        • by sjames (1099)

          I suggest someone put a megaphone up to any such judge's ear and yell "think again!"

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Freedom of speech isn't unlimited and ultimately it doesn't override noise ordinances. You can stand on a street corner and say whatever you like, but if you stand on a street corner with a bullhorn you could be cited for violating the local noise ordinances.

    • by icebike (68054)

      there's standards for loudness in most countries, but they're completely ignored by the broadcasters. they take an ad that's the correct standard volume and go ahead and turn it up anyway.

      The difference is Americans bitch about this.

      And by the way, these regulations are not completely ignored in all cases. The UK is pretty serious about fining offenders, and banning their adverts.

      There are technical issues involved, such as measuring loudness (not everybody agrees on how this should be done) or when (whole program average, last 5 minute average, etc.). People have been asking for this for 30 years, and only now has there been any proposed standard for applying the volume limit. Previously

    • by jrumney (197329) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:23PM (#38378294) Homepage
      Its usually not done by turning the volume up, as that would break the law. Its done by compressing the dynamic range, so the maximum volume of the commercials is the same as the maximum volume of the programs, but the average volume is much louder.
      • by mug funky (910186)

        doesn't matter. you can't lie to an averaging meter, or even a VU meter.

        in analog land, you're looking at an average of 0 VU and a peak of +10 at the most. when it all went digital, they parked 0 VU at -20dBFS on the digital scale, +10 at -10, and 10dB of headroom for overshoot to prevent clipping. when you plug a digital deck's analog output into a VU meter, a proper program will float around the 0 VU mark, exactly where it would on an analog setup. more compression just means the needle moves less fro

    • Motorhead (Score:5, Funny)

      by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:47PM (#38378572) Journal

      all commercials must run at the same volume as network newscasts

      Two news anchors sitting at the news desk, one male one female, smiling in a news anchor kind of way cameras running:

      --------------
      Male Anchor yelling at the top of his lungs: So Jane, what do you think about our new theme music on the intro?

      Female Anchor yelling back: Whaaat?

      Male Anchor yelling louder: I said, what * do * you * think * of * our * new * theme * music? It's * by * Motorhead!

      Female Anchor nods as if she heard him but really she didn't, starts yelling herself: It sure is Bob. In our first story...
      --------------

      They'll find a way around this.

    • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @09:02PM (#38378704) Homepage

      Can a broadcast engineer stick in his two cent's worth?

      The problem isn't absolute levels, it's processing. Our own FM stations use processors (two Omnias and a Wheatstone/Vorsis) that cost over $12,000 EACH. They have support for European loudness limitations -- which are quite restrictive -- built in. Similar processors are available for television. So ... technically, it wouldn't be a problem for us . .. .. IF we received the commercials in unadorned, unprocessed form. We don't.

      Simply put, the people who produce the commercials are the ones who smash, squeeze, compress, clip and mangle the audio to make it sound like the Monster Truck man on an acid trip. My processor basically goes into bypass whenever one of these commercials comes along and it's STILL too loud.

      The poster who thinks that we (meaning broadcasters) "turn up" the commercials is wrong, too, by the way. Most of that is automated now, and/or goes through the aforementioned processing. Even our live music stations with a "deejay" in the control room are typically automated now: the computer pauses when it's time for the show host to talk, then goes back into automation when they're done.

      • by smpoole7 (1467717)

        Then again ... let me disclaim: I can't speak for the Cable people. I suspect that they calibrate their equipment when it's first installed and then never look at it again. It really, truly is automated -- their commercials are inserted automatically. That's why they make so many mistakes. :)

        (Sorry, a little inter-species rivalry there . .. . ) :)

      • by Announcer (816755) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @11:03PM (#38379644) Homepage

        Correct, it's not "Normalize". That algorithm seeks the highest peak in the audio, then raises or lowers the TOTAL GAIN to bring THAT PEAK to the preset level. Here is the caveat. You can have an audio file that is -50 db (barely audible) with a single "clunk" (like the mic got bumped) at 0 db. If your "normalizing" to -6db, then it's going to reduce the gain of the ENTIRE FILE by 6db, leaving your desired audio at -56, with the single peak at -6.

        What you want to do, is technically known as DYNAMICS COMPRESSION. This is a variable gain adjustment, on-the-fly. Radio stations use "audio processors" to do this in realtime. With digital audio, the process can be MUCH more precisely controlled, since it is NOT in realtime. With proper dynamics processing, you'd have that -50db audio raised to at least -20, and that 0db peak dropped to -6. Yes, you can "crank it to 11" by having it raise the -50 db audio to -6, and bring the 0db down to -6 also... but with too much gain increase, noise is raised, as well.

        Dynamics compression is what those LOUD commercials are using. If you open the audio in an editor program like Audacity, it looks almost flat, with minimal hills and valleys. You will also see this on MOST modern music. The compress the daylights out of it, to make it all sound LOUDER. It works, too... having 0 db of dynamic range in audio sounds quite loud, and becomes fatiguing to listen to for any length of time.

        What would REALLY be needed, is a "smart" detector that not only examines peak amplitude, but also the AVERAGE. If the average is always high, then the gain will be dropped proportionally. It would take some doing to make a system that could do this reliably. I have a TV with what they call "Equisound", and it is absolutely DREADFUL! I have thought of using an outboard audio processor, like my Alesis "Nanocompressor".

        • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @08:52AM (#38381918) Homepage

          Sorry to wax so eloquent about this, but audio processing is one of my loves. :)

          > a "smart" detector that not only examines peak amplitude, but also the AVERAGE.

          A professional broadcast audio processor divides the audio into several different bands, then uses all sorts of proprietary algorithms to "decide" where and when to apply compression. The peak limiters are even more sophisticated: our Vorsis AirAura processor, for example, splits the audio into 31 different bands(!) and uses psychoacoustic masking to hide any generated artifacts. (For the curious: http://vorsis.com/audio-processors/airaura-digital-audio-processor.html [vorsis.com]) It is, without exception, one of the most amazing audio processors I've ever heard. When it's adjusted properly, it's a transparent as a piece of wire.

          In radio, our product IS the audio. The sound. We want it ALL to be loud and clean, but we cannot overmodulate (i.e., "overdrive" the transmitter input).

          The key, of course, is to ADJUST it properly. It takes a lot of work and patience. I consider it a specialty, and there are others (the corporate chief for Cumulus, Gary Klein, is considered something of a processing "guru" amongst my brethren). A small, unattended TV operation isn't going to devote the time and attention needed. A cable operator has neither the skill nor the personnel.

          (Shoot, I've complained to some of our satellite network providers about widely varying audio levels. Some have admitted to me that they don't even have processing on the audio: it's straight from the mike into the uplink. With hundreds of channels, it would cost millions of dollars to put truly effective compression and limiting on each one, so they don't even bother.)

  • good start (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:13PM (#38377320)
    Now, if they'll also ban quiet and medium-loud ones, we'll really be getting somewhere.
  • How loud is that? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:15PM (#38377352)

    The problem with ads is that they, like top 40 music, are much more heavily compressed than movies or newstalk. The maximum amplitude isn't any higher though. So what measure of "loudness" is it going to be? Because if it's amplitude, then this law will do precisely nothing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Obfuscant (592200)
      This.

      And making the cable provider responsible may be the right thing for local avail ads (ads the cable company inserts into network feeds), but how are they supposed to monitor and control network-sourced ads?

      • If the penalties were heavy enough, perhaps they'd reduce ad volumes to substantially lower than the program content, just in case they were fed something loud by the network. That would be fine by me!
      • by icebike (68054)

        How?
        By using technical means. Jeeze, this technology is already commercially available and built into many TV sets. Its not rocket science.

      • They'll figure it out after the first few fines.

    • by mark-t (151149)
      No... at least not always. In my own experience, for most of the shows that I watch, I am always having to turn the volume down when commercials start because the volume difference is very significant between it and the program I was watching. This may be just a consequence of some of the shows that I watch having low recording levels, rather than a direct result of the station making the commercial louder, but it's still a distinct volume difference.
      • by Hatta (162192)

        You don't understand the difference between amplification and dynamic range compression. Dynamic range compression increases the RMS amplitude without affecting the peak amplitude, thereby sounding louder without exceeding simple amplitude limits.

    • Not simple volume (Score:5, Informative)

      by pavon (30274) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:40PM (#38377746)

      The rule is based on ATSC A/85 RP [aice.org] (70 page PDF), which most definitely is not just a simple amplitude definition.

    • Re:How loud is that? (Score:4, Informative)

      by caladine (1290184) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:52PM (#38377918)
      It's loudness as defined by the measurement technique in ITU BS.1770, which is a lot more than amplitude.
  • by TheSync (5291) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:17PM (#38377370) Journal

    Here is a link to the FCC website for the actual text of the Report and Order [fcc.gov] regarding implementation of the CALM Act.

  • They'll just raise the volume of their newscasts to be above the normal level of the rest of the channel.

    Who watches ads anymore anyways?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Most TV viewers.
      Sorry, but you are in the minority.

    • by MaXintosh (159753)
      Who watches ads anymore anyways?
      The overwhelming majority of Americans?

      The problem is not the average loudness. If a channel is quiet, you can raise the volume and be fine. Loud? Turn it down, you're fine. It's sudden variation in volume that's the problem. You're cruising along, watching some TV, and then suddenly there's a super loud ad yelling at you at the top of its lungs. What's to do? Turn down the volume? Can't hear the news cast. Turn it down, and then up again? At some point, the average user
      • Re: Or... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Phrogman (80473) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:30PM (#38377578) Homepage

        "Fuck this shit, I will just go download it and not have any ads at all". And they wonder why people download TV show?

    • Regulations always end up with the most evil effect possible, as it forces people to be devious to work around them.

      • Whereas without regulations, everything is happy-happy koombaya land?

        Note: I'm not disagreeing with you, but not having regulations doesn't work either.

  • THIS LAW SHOULD HAVE BEEN PASSED AGES AGO.

    obligatory lower case text to get past /.'s ban on too-loud posts.

  • by geekoid (135745)

    It's about time.

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:21PM (#38377440)
    *kaboom*HEADON ...*whisper*apply directly to the forehead.
  • by Compulawyer (318018) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:25PM (#38377512)
    Now how am I going to skip commercials? Doesn't TiVo use the volume difference to determine where the commercials begin and end?
  • by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:30PM (#38377592)
    Sounds good, but how do you define "volume?" Peak decibels? RMS power of the signal? Average volume? Can I insert a few seconds of silence at the end to balance out a huge burst of noise at the beginning? Does frequency matter? Instead of using more volume, can I just shift my commercial up an octave to get around the restriction?
    • by TheSync (5291)

      Sounds good, but how do you define "volume?" Peak decibels? RMS power of the signal? Average volume?

      The CALM Act references ATSC A/85 which uses loudness measurement using the ITU-R BS.1770 recommendation [itu.int].

      For long-form material, the expectation of professional mixers is to keep the anchor element (usually speech, but could be music in an all-music program) at constant loudness. Short-form material is generally analyzed as a whole.

  • AWFUL SUMMARY (Score:5, Informative)

    by Scareduck (177470) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:32PM (#38377614) Homepage Journal

    The FCC is implementing a law passed by Congress. The FCC did not "pass" anything.

    • by syousef (465911)

      The FCC is implementing a law passed by Congress. The FCC did not "pass" anything.

      Unlike slashdot, which is passing mountains of excrement these days.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      The FCC is implementing a law passed by Congress. The FCC did not "pass" anything.

      This. I was waiting on the law, which was passed earlier this year, to go into effect. I wasn't aware that it was just the time for the FCC to enact a policy about it, which itself would take a year to actually come into enforcement. :(

  • Commercials, yes.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:33PM (#38377624) Homepage Journal

    Sirius has become as bad as broadcast radio in adopting the same sh_tty BOOM, WHOOSH & BAM intros to commercials. Who, besides 5 year-olds is impressed with this junk, anyway? I listen to a radio show and then BOOOM <sunday sunday sunday-guy voice>You're listening to ___ on Sirius __(channel name)__</sunday sunday sunday-guy voice> It would be great of FCC insists those stupid things were toned down as well.

  • by hipp5 (1635263)
    Fucking. Hate. Forced. Acronyms.
    • Fucking. Hate. Forced. Acronyms.

      Hipp5, the Generated Acronym Hater!

    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      The FHFA (pronounced fuh-fuh) society totally agrees with you, but nobody else respects them because they can't get past laughing at the "fuh-fuh" sound.
  • Never fear (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:34PM (#38377646) Homepage Journal

    Advertisers view laws, rules, and common decency as damage and will do their best to route around it.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Advertisers view laws, rules, and common decency as damage and will do their best to route around it.

      Yet another opportunity to drag the poor, abused 'Freedom of Speech' out for another turn on the rack.

    • Advertisers should have a bomb implanted at the base of their skull, and the minute they betray any sociopathic tendency, KABOOM!

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:38PM (#38377708)

    Tuesday, the FCC passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM.

    Wrong. Congress passed the 2010 Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act and it was signed by the President on December 15, 2010, a year ago tomorrow.

    What the FCC did yesterday [fcc.gov] was to adopt rules restricting loud commercials, as it was required to under the CALM Act, which will become effective one year after adoption, on December 13, 2012.

  • by mkraft (200694) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:42PM (#38377762)

    Nitpick:

    The FCC can't pass laws or "acts" (which aren't "passed" anyway). Only Congress can pass bills which become laws when signed by the President (or via a veto override). The FCC has regulatory power over broadcast networks based on the mandates given to it by Congress, and has the power to levy fines, but it can't enact laws. There's a grey area when it comes to non-broadcast stations and cable companies, but usually they comply.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Communications_Commission#Regulatory_powers_and_enforcement [wikipedia.org]

    • This was a law passed by congress; the enforcement of that law is assigned to somebody, most likely the FCC. FCC may only be for management of the people's limited radio waves it still has been assigned multiple tasks by law and sometimes it oversteps and sometimes it pushes around cable as well.

      This is why I oppose the FCC doing net neutrality, because they lack the necessary power to pull it off and if they do, they are weak and can easily be undone with some presidential appointments. LAWS are not so e

  • Uhhh...this is stupid.

    So now, the newscasts will simply be much louder then all the other content.

    Hey, what's that over there!?

  • Station IDs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Flere Imsaho (786612) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:51PM (#38377906)

    What about banning those annoying-as-fuck translucent station IDs, especially the animated ones?

  • by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:02PM (#38378030)

    Commercials in surround sound are just as annoying as loud commercials.
    They'll intentionally bounce the sound around all over the 5.1/7.1 channels so you can't ignore it.

  • by steveha (103154) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:03PM (#38378052) Homepage

    Since this is Slashdot, I'll share some details on the problem of measuring loudness.

    Loudness is difficult to measure objectively, because loudness is what a human experiences when listening to audio. Intensity, on the other hand, is easy to measure; just get a sound level meter [wikipedia.org].

    Why is loudness different than intensity? Because the human auditory system contains a natural filterbank that divides incoming audio up into multiple bands, and then applies an exponential scaling function to each band. Old books and papers call these bands critical bands [wikipedia.org]; I think the more modern concept is ERBs [wikipedia.org].

    For sounds that hit only one band, such as a pure sine tone, the intensity of the sound is a good approximation of loudness. But sounds that hit multiple bands scale roughly linearly in the number of bands hit. I'll give an example.

    If you generate a pure sine tone at power level X, and then generate two sine tones each at power level X/2, then the measured intensity will be identical. However, if the two sine tones are in different bands, the loudness will be nearly double.

    So, as a rule of thumb, the more frequency bands a given sound hits, the louder it is at any given power level. Something that sounds like white noise will be louder than something that sounds like a clear bell tone or a single flute note.

    The people who make commercials know how to game the system. I'm pretty sure that there were already limits on measured intensity of commercials, but that wasn't enough to solve the problem.

    Imagine you are driving along, listening to a radio show. Maybe talk radio, maybe NPR, whatever. You have the "volume control" knob on your car radio set to a comfortable listening level. The radio show only has audio at typical human speech frequencies, and isn't trying to sound loud. Now comes the commercial, which smears its audio all over the spectrum; it puts processing on the voice, with reverb and stuff. "Sunday Sunday Sunday-y-y-y!!!! M-m-monster truck demolition derby!!!" or whatever. It's not your imagination, it really is louder. But a sound level meter might say it's the same as the radio show content, or only slightly higher intensity level.

    The company for which I work (DTS) has a solution to the problem called "Neural Loudness Control", and there is a white paper [harris.com] available that really goes into detail about this stuff, so you don't need to stop with my lame explanation. NLC has a full "loudness model" that approximates the human auditory system when computing a loudness metric; but it also can operate in a mode that follows the new standard.

    Also, here's a PowerPoint presentation by JJ Johnston about loudness vs. intensity [aes.org].

    So the new standard, 1770 [itu.int], is a pretty easy-to-calculate approximation of loudness. You apply two filters: one that simulates the transfer function of an average human head, and the "RLB weighting curve"; then compute mean-square energy on the result. This is simple enough that nobody really has an excuse in the 21st Century that it would be hard to comply.

    I'm a little worried that it is too simple, and there might be ways to trick it. For example, it doesn't seem to handle audio that is smeared across multiple bands to make it sound louder. But I'm not actually working in the area of loudness measurement, and from what I've heard, 1770 works okay for most stuff. It's better than no standard.

    And on the gripping hand, 1770 is the law now.

    steveha

  • that does not have any ad's (under then HBO own ad's) and cable does not do insertion on all channels

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:38PM (#38378484)

    The flight toward other entertainment channels is already in full swing. TV ownership is declining. People are dropping cable. More males play videogames than watch sports now. The baby boomers, the quintessential TV generation, have begun going on to their reward. Even basic media consumption habits (time-shifting, etc) have changed for good. TV still has more time left than newspapers do, but not much.

    So turning down the volume of commercials now is a bit like repainting the ballroom after the ship has already hit the iceberg.

    • by TheSync (5291)

      The flight toward other entertainment channels is already in full swing. TV ownership is declining.

      While TV ownership may have dropped from 96.7% this year down from 98.9%, the last Super Bowl still managed to draw an all-time high of 111 million viewers.

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @10:38PM (#38379502)

    Well not ditch, replace them with network newreports, and run the "network newscast" for 0.0001 seconds at 3:03am *really* loud. If it doesn't need to be daily sync it up with the emergency broadcast test...

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