Secret safe-words of the Emergency Broadcasting System

Lou sez, "This is an actual scanned page of a radio station's Emergency Broadcast System authenticator list. A radio station would receive a 'secret word' by teletype and they'd have to use this list to verify that the emergency was real or if it was merely a test. As I look over this list, I can't help but notice the silly ones, and imagine myself as a DJ trying to announce the probable extinction of the human race by nuclear attack, all the while straining to hold back the laughter over the authenticator word being one of the stupider ones on this list, like 'OINTMENT' or 'SPAGHETTI' -- or 'FLAPCAKE' Then there are the creepy ones, like 'UNHOLY', 'TORMENT', 'MALICE', and 'RAISIN'" Link (Thanks, Lou!)

25

  1. It would be fun to make up stories using the words in this list:

    “I don’t give a Chinaman’s pelvis about Mona’s canyon,” resounded Governor Hempseed. “My wife Glory forgave me for that orgy.”

    please continue…

  2. That’s quite worrying, actually; some of the words chosen as “safewords” look to me like words that could conceivably be part of a real emergency announcement—i.e., “The Governor has declared a state of emergency in parts of Topanga Canyon, where freak temperatures of minus fifteen degrees have left residents stranded; rescue crews are trying to retrieve…” and so on.

  3. The message would have to start with the ACTIVATION word and end with the TERMINATION word for the current date in order to be valid. That still means that “Governor has declared a state of emergency in parts of Topanga Canyon” would be accidentally valid, if it happened to have been sent on October 5, 1973.

  4. Hmm, pretty hard to come up with a message that starts with ‘forgave’ or ends with ‘retrieve’ … but possible, of course.

  5. “She may be a fortress minus the gate, but I scarcely can find a rational man who’d put his creeper in her foundry,” replied his friend. “You might as well write MORON on your fanfold and resound your idiocy on a crowded catwalk! Some fecund writer will make you the butt of his afterpiece!”

    “Now lets go retrieve your raisin.”

  6. Mnchld, that sounds like a patch of particularly florid dialogue from Deadwood.

  7. Unfortunately, the one time that the EBS sent the wrong authenticator, it wasn’t flapdoodle or chickenhead. Befitting the cinematic creepiness of the system (and the Cold War itself), it was “hatefulness.”

    http://ebstest.stlmedia.net/

    The word that finally ended the fake crisis, an hour later? Impishness.

  8. When I worked the phone as an order taker at a mail order catalog company, we would come up with lists of similarly odd words (or phrases) and offered prizes to whomever could work them into a customer call without losing the sale.

  9. The following activation-termination pairs would be (and possibly were) perfectly acceptable 1973-era porn movie titles:

    CHINAMAN ORGY
    SCARCELY FECUND
    FOUNDRY CREEPER
    BACKDOOR GABARDINE
    DAISY ISLAND
    SITUATE LAYMAN
    LOVESICK BREECHES
    SOFA PADDLER
    RUBY TAGTAIL
    ZIGZAG CLARINET
    LOVELORN ANVIL
    OINTMENT FOLLOWER
    JOHNSON TRANSFORM
    HALFCOCKED VANCOUVER
    DELUXE KENNEL
    UNMELTED LASHING
    and, lastly, UNETHICAL SCOTTY (which I believe starred VENETIA SERRULATE)

    That is all.

  10. When I was a DJ in college in the late 80s, we had a teletype machine that rang when a news story was being printed. One bell equaled a regular story, two bells something more important, three bells more important still up to five bells, which signaled nuclear war. Let me tell you, that machine put me on edge when it went past even one ring.

  11. Then there are the creepy ones, like ‘UNHOLY’, ‘TORMENT’, ‘MALICE’, and ‘RAISIN'”

    The first three, okay, but did I miss a memo declaring dehydrated grapes to be creepy?

  12. When I was a DJ in college in the late 80s, we had a teletype machine that rang when a news story was being printed. One bell equaled a regular story, two bells something more important, three bells more important still up to five bells, which signaled nuclear war. Let me tell you, that machine put me on edge when it went past even one ring.

    When I worked in a radio station in the mid 70’s, the word was that the only time anyone remembered it ringing 4 bells was when Kennedy was shot.

    Kept me on edge too.

  13. Some of these do seem to be very appropriate for use as safewords.

    Should I be surprised that the government is in the BDSM business?

  14. “When I worked in a radio station in the mid 70’s, the word was that the only time anyone remembered it ringing 4 bells was when Kennedy was shot.”

    I suppose nowadays any “news” involving Britney Spears rates at least 3 bells…

  15. …Kids, I hate to burst this protomeme, but I worked with EBS authenticator codes from 1978 to 1981, 1985 to 1986, 1988 to 1992, and one final stint in 1995. Whenever we received a new instructional booklet from Civil Defense containing new authenticator lists, we always unsealed the old ones – against regulations, mind you – just to see what those authenticator codes were. In every single case but two – IIRC, 16 lists total – they were all either five to seven random alphanumberic characters, with the two from 1991 and 1992 being actual words, but absolutely *NOTHING* that could be connected into faux porn movie titles.

    …Unless this guy has the complete FCC authenticator info booklet to go with this list, I’m calling bullshit.

  16. I worked in radio in the mid 1980’s. One year the government decided to do a nationwide test of an “actual emergency.” They sent out a notice the day before. Oh, joy! The test would be on my shift!

    It was the only time I’d ever heard ten bells. Scared the crap outta me, even though I knew the test was coming.

    Of course, the REAL fun with that system was the fact that I worked for the equivalent of WKRP, which meant that we didn’t have the hottest signal in the area. (Someone picked up the skip in Tel Aviv once…) This meant we had a device that monitored the clear channel AM station and an audible alert went off in the control room every time they activated the EBS. Normally that just meant we picked up the weekly test and noted it in the log.

    The real fun came in the spring. We live in Tornado Alley, and that clear channel station reaches a good chunk of Texas. Every time there was a tornado warning off in their listening area (which included southern OK and eastern LA and AK) NOAA asked the clear channel station to activate the EBS and we got the notification. Some afternoons the alarm went off like crazy, right in the middle of breaks or newscasts. We weren’t required to activate our EBS, but the government expected us to log every single alarm.

    Twenty years on I still jump when I hear the EAS test.

  17. Sounds like something out of _A Colder War_.

    WARNING.

    The following briefing film is classified SECRET OINTMENT TORMENT SPAGHETTI. If you do not have SECRET OINTMENT TORMENT SPAGHETTI clearance, leave the auditorium now and report to your unit security officer for debriefing. Failing to observe this notice is an imprisonable offense.
    You have sixty seconds to comply.

  18. OM:

    It seems to be legit. The guy has a HUGE story on it, and many many many scanned pages from the EBS book…..pretty interesting reading, including scripts of “Emergency Action Notification” attack warnings.

    http://www.akdart.com/ebs.html

  19. I did college radio in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and we had an AP machine. ‘5 bells’ was rare but could be heard from time to time. I was on the air the evening of December 8, 1980, and heard the five bells that announced the news about John Lennon.

Comments are closed.