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Cutting the volume on TV commercials

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A South Marion Citizen editorial

Every once in a while Congress does something that pleases many consumers. Admittedly, it’s rare, but when it happens, it’s worth mentioning.

How many times have you been sitting in front of your television watching a nice, calm program, and a commercial comes on that blasts you out of your seat and you scramble to find the remote? We also have to wonder how many people miss part of a TV show because they doze off, only to be awakened by the loud voice of a commercial.

You might be listening to a loud duck trying to sell you insurance, or some guy in an office supply store yelling, “That’s a low price.”

You keep wishing someone would do something about those ads.

Last week Congress approved the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) act. The FCC is mandated under the bill to adopt new sound regulations next year and enforce them, beginning in 2012.

There already is a mandate, but it requires only that commercials be no louder than the loudest noise on the show you are watching. If you’re looking at a police drama, and there’s a loud explosion in the show that only lasts a split second, that’s enough for the advertisers, who are allowed to get as loud as that momentary blast.

The new law would take into effect speech patterns, high and low tones and sudden noise spikes.

According to the Washington Examiner:

Ever since television caught on in the 1950s, the Federal Communication Commission has been getting complaints about blaring commercials. But the FCC concluded in 1984 there was no fair way to write regulations controlling the “apparent loudness” of commercials, so it hasn’t been regulating them.

Correcting sound levels is more complicated than using the remote control. The television shows and ads come from a variety of sources, from local businesses to syndicators.

Managing the transition between programs and ads without spoiling the artistic intent of the producers poses technical challenges and may require TV broadcasters to purchase new equipment. To address the issue, an industry organization recently produced guidelines on how to process, measure and transmit audio in a uniform way.

It will take time, but there is hope on the horizon. Maybe soon we’ll be able to watch TV without suddenly jumping when a commercial comes on, and maybe those naps in the easy chair will last a little longer.