Emergency Broadcast System

This post was originally published by Bill on September 5, 2012. And it was Freshly Pressed!

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be the announcer for the Emergency Broadcast System.  I was fascinated with the periodic tests of the EBS that aired on local television stations.  The dire sound of the two-tone Attention Signal – purposely designed to feel uncomfortable to the human ear — the button-down seriousness of the announcer assuring us that this was “only a test” (even as an eight-year-old I could hear the implied “. . . this time!”) — every time I heard these, I stopped whatever I was doing and focused on the TV.  Even when I was too young to understand the implications of “a national emergency,” I sensed grave danger in the message.  Once I had learned about ICBMs and instant vaporization, mushroom clouds and fallout, the images I could then attach to the “test” made it all the more threatening, like the click of the hammer on an empty chamber in a game of Russian Roulette.

Two or three times while changing channels, I happened to turn to a station in the middle of broadcasting the test, so I missed the opening “only a test” voiceover and sat through twenty-five horrifyingly anxious seconds of the Attention Signal, wondering if this time it was the real thing and we were all going to die in a burst of nuclear fire.  It was like reading a Stephen King novel while riding a roller coaster, all in less than half a minute.  And then the announcer’s voice came on, and he let us all know that this had been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System, and we could get on with our lives.  For now.

Before I was even out of grade school, I wanted that announcer’s job.  I learned his script by heart, and said it out loud along with him during the test.  I can still repeat the message, and when I do I feel that same sense of authority and guidance that I associated with that announcement when I was a kid: Click Here To Hear

Yes, that Attention Signal gave me a frisson of terror every time I heard it, but the announcer was always there to assure us that it was only a test, that we would get through this.  In fact, even if worse turned to worst, then, while he couldn’t do anything to prevent the cataclysm, at least he would be there to tell us where to go for news and official information.  But it never came to that, and really, what the announcer did every time was tell me that there was nothing to be scared of.

For almost as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be that person, in a way that seems almost irrationally disconnected from anything I actually did that was career-oriented.  Pre-med in college; teaching and marketing in Japan; practicing as a lawyer — none of that had anything to do with broadcasting or voiceover work.

But this week, a new class of students has entered school, and they’ve come to our career services office in varying degrees of good-hearted panic.  They’ve shared with me their hopes of finding the right job and career and their fears that they won’t, that they don’t have the right resume or connections or can’t network or don’t even know in which direction they should be moving.  And as I sat with them and spoke to them and assured them that they will get through this just fine, that the world is not coming to an end, and, here, let me pass along this news and official information — I realized that maybe, in a way, I have become the Emergency Broadcast System announcer I always wanted to be.  Relax, everyone.  This is just life.  This is only a test.