February 25, 2021

The decibel difference between the TV shows I watch and the commercials they air have driven me crazy for decades.  As Melissa and I watch shows we may comment to one another, but any real conversation is saved for the commercials.  The problem is, the commercials are often so loud that we end up turning the sound off completely, rather than trying to talk, and hear, over the noise on TV.  That is despite the federal legislation banning broadcasters from boosting their signal during commercial times.  That applies for Cable companies as well.  Ten years after the bill passed it still seems to happen.

When I looked online, I found the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM ACT) requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bar the audio of TV commercials from being broadcast louder than the program material they accompany.  This bill was the US Senate companion to proposed legislation in the House of Representatives.  Reportedly, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif), wrote the bill after a loud commercial interrupted a family dinner.  When she asked her brother-in-law to turn down the volume, he allegedly said, “Well, you’re the congresswoman.  Why don’t you do something about it?”  The Senate unanimously passed the bill on September 30, 2010., and after some minor changes, the bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 15, 2010.  It took effect on December 13, 2012.

Most TV commercials are created to be loud so you can hear the advertisement, and to get your attention.  While the CALM Act is in place, the FCC does not regulate the volume of commercials, nor the volume of TV programs.  The FCC does require broadcasters to limit the power that is used to transmit the signal.   Technically, that means a commercial cannot be any louder than the loudest portion of the TV program you are watching.  The problem comes when you are watching a loud action program with soft dialog.  When they cut to a commercial you hear a boost or fluctuation in the volume.  While that might be a reason, it cannot be the only one.  We have tremendous volume fluctuation even between commercials in the same ad slot.  While the FCC tells you to report the incidence, it is easier to turn off the sound if it is too LOUD.

Thoughts:  While the CALM Act is in place, it is obvious it is not always effective.  Several manufacturers have put a noise dampening system into their TVs to moderate the sound difference.  That extra expense would not be necessary if the difference did not exist.  Perhaps we need a CALM Act to moderate our online discussions as well.  While they may not be loud (except ALL CAPS), they can be vitriol.  What we need is to be calm, and to listen, and then think, all before firing off a vicious tweet.  This might even work in face-to-face communication.  It is certainly better than just turning off the sound if you think another’s opinion is too loud.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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