FEMA Celebrates PEP Upgrade to Historic WBZ

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WBZ's Ben Parker asks Hull Fire Chief Christopher Russo about Project PEP.
WBZ’s Ben Parker asks Hull Fire Chief Christopher Russo about Project PEP.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency officially announced the modernization of the PEP facilities at WBZ Boston with a brief ceremony last week.

The main entry point stations are the first link in a distribution chain which provides emergency information to all of the approximately 20,000 broadcasting stations in the United States. There are a total of 77 PEP stations which form the core of the emergency alert system.

EAS requires broadcast stations to install equipment that monitors these PEP stations and enables them to relay critical information in the event of a national emergency.

The event took place at the WBZ transmitter site in Hull, Mass., Where FEMA completed delivery of an improved “all hazards” shelter containing emergency transmission equipment designed to continue operating in all conditions.

The shelter includes a generator with a 60,000 gallon fuel tank and a separate studio that can be occupied for up to 60 days. It has been hardened to remain usable in the presence of chemical, biological and nuclear hazards.

Exterior plan of the hardened PEP installation at WBZ
Exterior plan of the hardened PEP installation at WBZ

It has a 10 kW AM transmitter and a rack full of transmission equipment including IP codecs, a broadcast mixer and even an interview position with separate microphone. The shelters are made of welded steel and protect electronic equipment from damage that could be caused by electromagnetic pulse events.

The facility upgrade is part of a program to upgrade all 77 PEP stations in the United States, as authorized by an act of Congress in 2015. WBZ is the 13th station to receive the upgrade all risks level.

History of radio

WBZ was built in 1921 and celebrated its 100th anniversary on September 19. On that date, 100 years earlier, WBZ was broadcasting from the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield with a power of 100 watts. It then became a 50,000-watt directional network, functioning as a free-channel station with night-time coverage spanning thousands of kilometers. It is now owned and operated by iHeartMedia Boston, which is part of iHeartMedia.

WBZ radio personality Dan Rea, host of “Nightside with Dan Rea,” acted as emcee for the event, presenting a range of speakers from iHeartMedia, FEMA and local politicians and national.

Programming included Alan Chartrand, president of Boston Market, iHeartMedia; Manny Centeno, IPAWS Program Manager, FEMA; Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of engineering and systems integration, iHeartMedia; Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts; and Antwane Johnson, director of IPAWS at FEMA.

State Senator Patrick O'Connor;  Alan Chartrand, iHeartMedia;  Dan Rea, WBZ NewsRadio 1030;  US Senator Edward Markey;  State Representative Joan Meschino;  Hull Board President Jennifer Constable
State Senator Patrick O’Connor; Alan Chartrand, iHeartMedia; Dan Rea, WBZ NewsRadio 1030; US Senator Edward Markey; State Representative Joan Meschino; Hull Board President Jennifer Constable

In his remarks, Johnson traced the history of the EAS system, noting that WBZ began broadcasting 30 years before the US government’s first emergency communications system, CONELRAD, was introduced in 1951 by President Truman during the cold War.

“All of this was taken out in 1963 with the creation of the emergency broadcast system, almost coinciding with the Cuban Missile Crisis, by President John F. Kennedy,” he continued. “In 1995, the FCC issued rules establishing the emergency alert system we know today,” Johnson said.

We will stop them

Markey, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, spoke at length about his childhood memories listening to WBZ and his own Cold War experiences as a boy during the “duck and blanket” exercises held in schools.

But remembering how his father listened to WBZ for emergency weather information, he quickly realized the importance of radio as an emergency communication system and the need to defend its role.

“And we’re going to stop these auto industry officials from thinking that the only radio that’s going to be turned on in a car is Sirius you have to pay for,” Markey said. “The whole key to our national news network is that it’s free,” to everyone in the United States, he said.

“That’s really what we’re celebrating today… this long, long partnership that has existed between WBZ and FEMA and all of the citizens who depend on them, including me.”


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