The “Sonic Assault” of TV Commercials on the American TV Viewer.… and How To Stop It!
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
You are watching your favorite TV Drama. There is a tender, quiet, moment in the story line and the network chooses this touching scene to cut to commercial. There is a sudden explosion of sound causing your roof to lift a full three inches, your windows to bulge outward by one and three-quarters inches while at least two stress cracks suddenly appear in panes near the center of the window. There is the tinkle of broken glass as a wine glass vibrates from your chair side table and smashes to the oak floor below. Pictures suddenly slip sideways and swing dizzily from side to side, barely secured by the wire thread on their backsides. Photos of the grandchildren, which had been reigning majestically on the mantle board, suddenly leap from their oaken thrones and crash on the inlaid ceramic tile hearth below. In the kitchen, canned goods leap from the wall cabinets and crash on the granite counter tops below. The refrigerator’s icemaker suddenly spews ice like an inverted geyser onto the terracotta tile floor. In the bathrooms, the flapper valves of all three toilets snap upwards just enough to cause all three of the ceramic thrones to flush simultaneously. In the den the heirloom coo coo clock’s bird hangs lifeless, swinging slightly from side to side, it’s spring sprung. The air has a talc-like mist of gray dust suspended in the atmosphere of all the rooms as though undecided as to which way is down. You gasp for breath and struggle to hear above the awful, awful, roar deep down in your ears painfully vibrating the mastoid bones in your skull. Then your wife, struggling valiantly, manages to reach the “mute” button on the remote and – there is pure, blessed, blessed, silence.
No, you did not just travel through the Twilight Zone, and it was not an earthquake. What I just described happens millions of times every hour all over the United States, because the government agency charged with the authority to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen, simply refuses to issue the order to stop it.
Ok, OK! So I laid it on a little thick in describing the sonic assault of TV commercials in your favorite TV show. But, as lavish, as over-expansive, as my description was, I’ll bet you knew EXACTLY what I was describing before you were half way through the description paragraph -- didn’t you?
The aggravation of having to turn the volume up and own and then down and back up while trying to watch a favorite TV program is just way, way, over the top!
If you were one of the few million who thought, til now it was your imagination, I am here to erase all doubt! YOU ARE NOT HALLUCINATING! IT REALLY IS HAPPENING!
Back in my days in radio broadcasting we were not allowed to do that. We had to have what we called “limiters’ on the audio we broadcast. If the signal the board operator sent out was too loud, it was instantly brought down to the predetermined, pre-set levels, proscribed by the government. If that same signal was too low, it was brought up to those same predetermined, preset levels. You, as the listener never heard any difference. What you enjoyed, emanating, from the speakers of your radio was a volume of sound which never varied enough for your human ears to detect any difference, at all. You turned your radio on, set the level of volume you were comfortable with -- and forgot it. It remained right where you set it until you turned off the radio.
I am here to tell you the same science can be very quickly applied to TV sound as well. After all, TV audio is nothing more than FM radio. It would take no rocket science to develop the equipment to do this, at all. As a matter of fact, I’d bet the equipment is already available, sitting, unnoticed, on some dusty shelves in some darkened electronic warehouse(s) somewhere.
Here’s what is happening. The existing rules say that the volume level of TV commercials can be as loud as the loudest sound on the soundtrack of the program you are watching. For instance -- say you are watching a love story and there is a touching, quiet, moment of restrained passion while a background of stringed instruments sets the mood in a soft, almost caressing, breeze of lovely, silky smooth, nearly celestial sound. A few minutes later there is a scene with a terrible car crash with smashing, rending metal, screeching tires, and smashing glass, and a female screaming at "decibels" of sound that pin the needles on any, and all, VU meters. I mean LOUD!
Now, guess which sound levels the commercial production folks will choose for their sonic assault on your ears as they hawk their products. You’ve got it! They choose the car crash sound level! Why? Because it is the loudest sound on the program sound track and THAT is what they are going to use to shred your eardrums and auger their messages way down into the deepest depths of your mind! It is sort of like instant brainwashing. Be aware that the FCC allows them to do it, too.
The government’s answer to the many complaints about this awful problem… turn your volume down. OK, but then you have to turn the volume back up again once the network switches back to the program soundtrack. It is a constant battle with the remote. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Yes, there are TV’s on the market that have an onboard limiter. But, the consumer must fork out more cash to purchase a product that does what the networks, the broadcaster, the cable companies, and/or the satellite TV companies (in our opinion) OUGHT to be doing out of sheer common courtesy for the consumers of their broadcast, or cable delivered, or satellite delivered, product.
In our opinion, it is the duty of the Federal Communications Commission to take up this matter – and I mean seriously, and not as some distasteful duty they must perform to get us off their backs.
I am now convinced the only way we are EVER going to get the FCC to take notice of this very real problem is to get the proper Congresspersons and proper Senators to act as our advocates with the FCC and explain to them, in no uncertain terms, what their constituents want and why the members of the Federal Communications Commission had better get off their collective behinds and get it done. We also need to see some action, some hearings, from the proper Senate and House committees.
Look, fellow TV viewers, this CAN be fixed! But it won’t be fixed if we don’t take the bull by the horns and lean on Congress to go after the FCC and force them to do their job.
So, let’s get those keyboards smoking and flood Congress, both houses, with demands for the sonic assault on the eardrums of Americans to be stopped by mandating that commercial content be aired at an acceptable decibel level for the human ear. One that won’t startle, and one that will allow American TV viewers to watch their favorite TV program(s) in a modicum of peace and relaxation. We know it can be done and it is WAY pass the time to do it -- and insure that it remains “fixed.”
J. D. Longstreet