McAdams On: CALM, Schmalm

Now, thanks to the power of legislation, Americans can be safe from loud TV commercials. The Senate passed the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act this week because it was easier to agree on than something that matters. The CALM Act will compel the FCC to regulate the volume of TV commercials.

I have to wonder how many staff hours on Capitol Hill were spent crafting the CALM Act. How many cigars, brandies, golf games and steak dinners went into it. I wonder how many votes on what were traded, or if it’s just one of those easy-peasies that makes it appear that federal lawmakers can actually agree on something.

If the president signs it, I’ll be flabbergasted. Therefore, I am prepared to be flabbergasted. How hard is it to hate on loud TV commercials? God forbid I should ever meet the guy from Mattress Warehouse with a fish filleter in my handbag. But seriously. A law? Where are all the anti big-government folks? We actually need a federal law to control the volume on our TV sets, of which there are more than people in the United States?

“Excessively loud television advertisements may seem like a small thing,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) when the Commerce Committee passed CALM. “But they are a big source of irritation for many television viewers.”

The troops in Afghanistan and Iraq must be just delirious to know that Congress will not tolerate irritation.

I do wish that everyone who voted for the CALM burlesque would sit through the subsequent engineering conferences. I wish there was even a modicum of technical awareness in the creation of such a bill. But this is one of those Yul Brenner-as-Pharaoh things--so let it be written, so let it be done. Because TV is just a singular stream of pictures and sound pumped into the RCA console for display in the home living room. Not. It’s a mélange of disparate segments, signals, formats, files, data and information--often created and combined on the fly--that has to traverse several thousand miles through various infrastructures and obstacles--intact.

That it happens at all is kind of a miracle. Every time I’m around TV engineers who deign to explain what they do in terms a six-year-old would understand, my head nearly explodes. (That’s not to say that Engineer vs. Engineer thing you do isn’t tedious. Yes, I’m talking to you.) Be that as it may, the folks on the technical side of TV are pretty sharp. They get that A) people are annoyed by screaming Mattress Warehouse Dude. B) Annoyed people turn of the TV and go outside. C) Outside is not where TV ratings are generated. D) TV ratings predicate their paychecks.

And why, I have to wonder, can’t TV sets be programmed to buffer radical audio shifts? Why don’t they have automatic gain control, filters, limiters and audio compressors? Oh, yeah. Many do. Setting the controls is apparently a big source of irritation to many viewers.