Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Turn the Volume Down!"

Port Townsend, today. For the umpteenth time, I've been jolted by a gawd damn TV commercial in the middle of a quiet dramatic scene. It's worse when you live in an apartment and try to be a decent neighbor. I was in the shower the other day when suddenly there was a hullabaloo in my living room, which I could clearly hear above the swooshing shower-head. It was that bozo salamander yammering about car insurance, until I stumbled into the living room and shut the cacophony down.

It's not your imagination that commercials are lots louder than the programming. People have been griping about it for years. I'm not sure just when the restrictions on commercial loudness became irrelevant, but the erosion of broadcast standards the way I was taught them, is just about complete.

I'm sure it's a Republican phenomenon; tied into the deregulation of the broadcast industry and the gutting of the FCC (Federal Communication Commission).

Do you trust the Federal Communications Commission?

But finally Congress is doing something about it. The House has approved S2847, the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM.) Act. It will require the FCC to regulate broadcasters to keep the level between programming and commercials the same. At last check S 2847 was in Committee this past week. Even if it gets everyone's approval, it will allow broadcasters two years to implement a solution.


What is pathetic about this is, the technology to maintain a constant volume output level, regardless of input source, has been with us since the 1960's. Broadcasters kowtow to advertisers who could care less about inconveniencing you.

I worked in radio in the 1960's as a DJ and news director in Oregon and Washington. All the electronics were tubes; records were vinyl, played on a turntable by a live DJ, usually with a catchy moniker so you'd remember who he was. Mine was, "Del Day." As in you "never have a dull day with Dell Day."

News copy came into the station from United Press International or Associated Press on a teletype machine, tucked away in a broom closet to muffle the chunk chunk chunk that chugged away 24 hours a day, seven days a week, devouring purple type ribbons and boxes of paper. Radio was fun.

Every broadcast control room had a ton-and-eighty of humming electrical gadgets. There was one small, innocuous rack mounted piece of equipment that stood guard between the public at large and the animated disc jockey, screaming commercials, and whatever music format being peddled to the public; the Gates M-5167 STA-LEVEL.

The Gates Sta-Level did exactly that. It was the final stage between the control room and the transmitter, receiving incoming volume units, processing and leveling them out to consistent level. In fact, in those days, the public was so sensitive about NOT being hammered by used car dealers that a refinement of the Gates Sta-Level appeared on the market just after I moved into training and video production.

A fellow by the name of Mike Dorrough invented the Dorrough Loudness Monitor with a patented technology he developed to give broadcast and recording engineers a true indication of "loudness" as perceived by the human ear. The audio loudness monitor has been in use worldwide in radio production, motion picture production, posting, music mixing, and dubbing applications.

Hailed as the definitive stabilizer between programming elements, the Dorrough Loudness Monitor directly attacks that "fall back position" argument broadcasters still peddle to "dumb audiences." They call it "perceived audio differences."

Call your local TV station and complain about the volume difference between programming and commercials. I bet they give you the "perception" routine. They will explain to you "Well, it's just your imagination. You think the commercials are louder just because they are commercials!" Or my favorite oldie but goodie, "Well, commercials are recorded using sophisticated audio production equipment to make them sound "clearer!"

Just remember where you learned the truth!

Both of these units are available off the shelf right now. Dorrough's been around since the 1980's. And there has been a resurgence of the Gates system, which has been "rediscovered" by the recording industry. And could be in use right now, IF your broadcaster was truly interested in "self regulating." But they will continue to snub their nose at the "dumb public" until federal regulation finally stops the abuse.

Of course the usual gang of righteous lawmakers yammer on about "let the market place regulate itself!" And the TV industry supposedly has standards to self-govern. So are enjoying "self governing" or "market place regulation?"

Of course not.

Well I'm not waiting around for the wheels of justice to creak along. So I am gong to purchase a Terk VR-1 "Automatic TV Volume Controller." Placed in line between my satellite receiver and audio system, it is supposed to deliver a smoother audio level.

I'll give it a spin and let you know how it turns out!

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