A goof-up by some La Crosse disc jockeys caused WKBT-TV viewers to hear a warning of a zombie attack.
The message went out shortly after 7:30 a.m. Tuesday when the hosts of the Z-93 morning show were joking about how hackers broke into the Emergency Alert System of a Montana TV station Monday and sent out the bogus warning.
The problem: Z-93 is the primary station in the local emergency network, and when they played a tape of the hoax, the alert tones triggered WKBT’s receiver, which automatically rebroadcast the signal.
Viewers heard both the phony message — which warned of “dead bodies rising from their graves” in several Montana counties and attacking the living — as well as the local DJs’ laughter.
The hackers’ message warned people not to “approach or apprehend these bodies as they are extremely dangerous.”
“Our engineers caught it immediately and called them,” said Z-93 station manager Brian Michaels, who apologized to WKBT and said the station’s engineers were checking the EAS equipment and working to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.
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Michaels said as far as he knows WKBT was the only station to pick up the alert, which would normally be carried by all radio and television stations broadcasting to La Crosse and surrounding counties.
WKBT’s chief engineer said the station has adjusted the filters on its EAS receiver.
The EAS is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters and other media outlets to broadcast messages from the president in the event of a national emergency. It is also used by state and local authorities to deliver emergency information such as AMBER alerts and weather warnings.
La Crosse County Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Butler said his agency sends out weekly tests that aren’t actually broadcast.
“This one went right through the system,” he said, calling it “a lesson learned for the on-the-air staff.”
Butler said a new digital system under development will be less susceptible to hacks and accidental broadcasts.
La Crosse County dispatchers said the alert did not generate any calls from the public.
Of course if it had been an actual zombie apocalypse, viewers would have been instructed where to tune in for official information.