Spevak: Deafening commercials tarnish TV enjoyment

john.spevak@gmail.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Television commercials are annoying at normal volume. Annoying commercials become intolerable, however, when broadcast at a volume that seems twice as loud as the program they’re sponsoring.

And, to my ear these days, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

Commercials on United States TV should no longer be excessively loud, theoretically. Federal legislation preventing commercials from being louder than the average volume of the programs they support went into effect in December of 2012.

The legislation is called CALM, or the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. But I am anything but calm when a commercial startles me with its volume.

The opportunities for me to become commercially agitated are numerous. During each half-hour of programming there’s an average of 13 to 17 minutes of commercials – usually for things I don’t need but advertisers urge me to want.

At least one excessively loud commercial blasts into every show I’m watching. For example, I may have just listened to a news report on the economy, and I’m still pondering the effects of employment gains or stock market losses when WHAM, I hear a sound effect or a voice that yells at me to buy a new car, cellphone or insurance policy.

I realize I should be better at combating this noise assault. After all, I have technology that can assist me. But I need to be highly vigilant and have the remote in my hand, with fingers ready to move with speed and dexterity.

If I’m watching a show that’s live, like news or sports, I need to hit the mute button quickly. But that means I have to be very attentive to what I’m watching, which usually I’m not.

While watching television, I’m often also doing other things, like reading the Enterprise. Or maybe I’m playing a game of Upwords with my wife, Sandy, and need to form a creative word that will keep her from getting too many points ahead of me.

Before I know it – ZEOWW – a loud commercial comes on and I can’t find the remote. Oh, the aural pain until I hit the mute. And since it’s right below the power button, if I’m reacting in a panic mode I’ll often mistakenly turn off the TV altogether.

I get particularly frustrated when listening to a dramatic show in which the dialogue is important to the plot. Often within a show the dialogue is at a volume lower than the background music and, since my hearing isn’t as good as it used to be, I need to crank up the volume.

If a quiet interchange of dialogue is immediately followed by a loud commercial that I don’t immediately mute, my body believes it is undergoing shock treatment – twitching and lurching and leaping off the couch. That can be dangerous to a 68-year-old man.

If I’m watching a show pre-recorded on DVR, which is the usual way Sandy and I watch television these days, I have to be ready to hit the fast-forward button. That, of course, takes some patience and dexterity, especially knowing when to hit the play button to resume watching the show.

In my attempts to avoid any and all commercials, I’ll usually hit the play button too fast or too slowly, and then have to spend more time going forward or backward to resume the show.

I’m a little puzzled why advertisers want to play their commercials louder than the programs they sponsor. I’m sure they want to get our attention. But they must know we get annoyed and activate our remotes.

In looking into the CALM Act, I noticed that there are no penalties associated with loud commercials. Yes, the Federal Communications Commission accepts complaints, and they’ve received thousands since the CALM act went into effect, but all the FCC can do is tell an advertiser to cool it, or rather calm it. There is no “or else!”

So I guess loud commercials are like the weather. We can talk or vent about them, but there’s nothing really we can do, except improve our RRT – our Remote Reflex Time.

On another note, Los Banos lost a good man when Jerry Hoyt recently passed away. He was devoted to his family, friends and community.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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