It’s not like the cable industry has some problem with White House hopeful Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). But an incident last week in New York may have had some people wondering. On the July 31 edition of the Late Show With David Letterman, a poignant exchange between Biden and Letterman was obliterated by that whiny, shrill test of the Emergency Alert Systems. One viewer said the interruption was so precise—and annoying—she wondered if it was deliberate.
No way. As it turns out, BC Beat first thought WCBS was behind the alert-system snafu because those things are usually associated with stations. As it turns out, by a FCC rule effected in 1992, all cable systems in an area are required to run a test of system once a month. The signal is automatically sent to cable systems in the New York area by WABC(AM) and interrupts every channel on all of them,
“Usually, it happens at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. but not always, and we never know what day it will happen,” explains Suzanne Giuliani, director of public relations for Time Warner Cable in New York. “We really don’t have any control over it.” (Conspiracy theorists, take note: This Giuliani is not related to the former mayor who’s a Republican presidential candidate).
Letterman was talking to Biden about a horrible time in his life: when his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash just before he was to be sworn into the Senate. Letterman found the pain of that event remarkable and asked a follow-up question, but viewers in New York never heard the answer. That’s when the alert started, with a crawl on the bottom of the screen telling viewers it was a test of the system.
Remarkably, no one in New York City complained. Not one person in the city that never sleeps. And if the show’s publicist was watching at home, she wouldn’t have known either. She has DirecTV—and DBS systems don’t run the alerts.