Weather Radio: all weather, all the time

Weather RadioThe U.S. Weather bureau signs on radio station KWO35, located at New York’s La Guardia Airport, broadcasting weather forecasts primarily for the benefit of pilots. Not targeted for public consumption, the experimental station broadcasts for several hours a day at a frequency of 162.55Mhz, outside of the spectrum reserved for FM radio. A similar station on the same frequency will later sign on at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 1953, again mainly for the consumption of airline pilots. Marine forecasts are added later, and the system helps the Weather Bureau prevent its local forecasters from being overwhelmed by requests for “personalized” weather reports for pilots. These two stations are the precursor for the nationwide weather radio network operated by the Weather Bureau’s successor agency, the National Weather Service.


CONELRADAs a response to early Soviet atomic weapon tests, President Truman orders the initiation of the nationwide CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) system, designed to limit the number of actively broadcasting radio stations whose signals could be used by enemy bombers to home in on and attack population centers. Designated AM radio stations would pass along emergency signals to smaller stations downstream, which would then begin a complex cycle of broadcasting emergency information to the public and then shutting down to allow another station to broadcast the same information; it is hoped that the rapidly shifting radio signals will prevent an invading enemy from finding viable targets. With its operating strategy assuming nuclear-armed Soviet bombers, CONELRAD will be rendered obsolete by the rise of the intercontinental ballistic missile by the end of the decade, and will be replaced by the Emergency Broadcast system in 1963.

The Emergency Broadcast System

Emergency Broadcast SystemsRadio and television stations across the United States begin mandatory participation in the national Emergency Broadcast System, a nationwide civil defense alert network replacing the CONELRAD system of the 1950s. Much like CONELRAD, EBS tests and activations initially require the rapid shutdown and reactivation of transmitters, at least until that practice is abolished in favor of a two-tone warning sound in the 1970s. Though the switch from CONELRAD to EBS is sparked by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the EBS will later become more closely associated with severe weather warnings.

Weather Radio expands

Weather RadioThe U.S. Weather Bureau announces plans to expand its Weather Radio service across the country, with forecasts now prepared and worded for public consumption (as opposed to the service’s original 1950s mission of providing weather information for airline pilots). Concentrated primarily in coastal areas and a handful of inland population centers, the Weather Radio network has yet to become the Bureau’s primary means of disseminating emergency weather information, a mission it won’t take on until the 1970s.

The national emergency that wasn’t

Emergency Broadcast SystemsA simple accidental tape swap at the Emergency Broadcast System‘s point of origination at NORAD replaces a routine Saturday morning EBS test with an actual emergency message involving a national emergency and an imminent message from the White House. In accordance with FCC rules, numerous radio and television stations across the country interrupt their programming in anticipation of news of a national emergency that isn’t actually happening. The situation is corrected within an hour, though questions about the effectiveness of the EBS linger at the local and national levels.

The voice of the National Weather Service

Weather RadioThe National Weather Service’s NOAA Weather Radio system finally finds its purpose with the introduction of a piercing “warning tone” preceding emergency weather announcements such as severe weather warnings. Manufacturers of weather radio receivers (an item which hit the market in 1970) use the five-second burst of 1050Hz warning tone to trigger attention-grabbing alert sounds and then activate the radio so the relevant information can be heard. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts on 29 stations around the country, and the agency continues to bring new transmitters online throughout the year.

From Weather Radio to Disaster Radio

Weather RadioAfter years of studies into the feasibility of constructing a nationwide disaster alert system, NOAA Weather Radio is officially designated the “sole government operated radio system” for both weather-related disasters and other major emergency announcements (nuclear attacks are specifically mentioned in the declaration from President Ford). This shift in policy toward using the National Weather Service’s radio infrastructure for all potential disaster situations is at least partially inspired by the April 1974 tornado “Super Outbreak” in the midwest. For the first time, Congress approves a budget earmarked specifically for weather radio, topping $3,000,000 for expansion in 1976.

Don’t Panic

Hitchhiker's Guide To The GalaxyWith the BBC giving his creation a late-night time slot indicating that they don’t really know what to do with it, Douglas Adams bursts onto the scene with the premiere of his radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Another attempt at mixing comedy and science fiction, Adams’ densely-worded style of wit catches on with an audience that’s never heard anything like it before. Hitchhiker’s Guide goes on to conquer nearly every medium exposed to it in the years to come.

More about The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in the LogBook

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Episode 6

Hitchhiker's Guide To The GalaxyThe sixth episode of Douglas Adams’ breakthrough radio science fiction comedy series The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is first broadcast on BBC Radio. This is the second episode co-written by John Lloyd, though his contributions are frequently downplayed by Adams in later years. Due to the unexpected popularity of the six-episode series, the BBC asks Adams for more Hitchhiker’s Guide, but in the interim he has also taken on a new full-time job as script editor of Doctor Who, making it harder to simultaneously write another six-episode radio series.

More about The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in the LogBook

Star Wars Radio: A Wind To Shake The Stars

Star Wars RadioThe first episode of Brian Daley’s radio drama adaptation of the science fiction blockbuster Star Wars airs on National Public Radio stations in the U.S. The series is produced by the NPR affiliate at the University of Southern California, where George Lucas attended film school (and to whom he sold the radio adaptation rights for the princely sum of one dollar). Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels are the only actors to reprise their movie roles, with the rest of the characters being recast.

More about Star Wars Radio in the LogBook