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Emergency Alert System test failure causes mini-emergency at 7News

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Yesterday, we shared conspiracy theories linked to the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System. But while doomsday predictions associated with, for instance, Earth passing through Comet Elenin's debris field didn't come to pass, 7News experienced problems of its own -- a failed message that caused technical issues for hours afterward.

Here's how 7News vice president and general manager Byron Grandy explains what happened around noon yesterday to the station's over-the-air signal, as differentiated from the digital one seen by the typical cable subscriber.

"There was a delay," he says. "Some stations got their signal before us, and we said, 'Where's ours?' But then, there it was, and we watched the countdown: ten, nine, eight... And when it hit zero, the message initiated, but it didn't initiate properly.

"The message was corrupted, and it didn't get forwarded to viewers the way it should have. The video froze up for a bit, and you heard garbled audio trying to come from the test. And after the video came back, we had software issues that gave us intermittent audio problems for a couple of hours." The sound wasn't out entirely during that span, but it came and went over that span because, Grandy says, "we'd have to take something down, work around it, then bring it back up and take something else down before we could bring it back up."

His guess about the culprit: code in the message that interacted badly with 7News' software. And because the box that was supposed to control the message's dissemination was at the end of the broadcast stream, the entire system behind it was negatively impacted.

Grandy doesn't put all the blame on the feds, even though plenty of other stations across the country, including outlets in New York City and Washington, D.C., suffered glitches, too. "It's complicated," he says. "There are a lot of moving parts." However, he does point out that "the Colorado Broadcasters Association, of which I'm chair, did two statewide tests in the last two weeks to get us ready for the nationwide test, and everyone passed with flying colors."

He's also curious "why it took us so long to test the nationwide system," which was mandated by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Despite the problems, Grandy hopes more nationwide tests will be in the offing, whether they spur more conspiracy theories or not. In his view, "This is the first step of many to make sure the systems we have in place work the way they're supposed to."

Or don't, as the case may be.

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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Comet Elenin fails to disrupt Barack Obama's Denver trip, devastate planet -- so far! (VIDEOS)."

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