CALM law keeps the volume down during commercials

Too loud!

“Too loud!” Excessively loud commercials are nothing new. But the CALM law changes all that. Image: quinn.anya/Flickr/CC BY-SA

The baby is asleep. You have the volume down on your favorite show. Then a commercial comes on and the volume is screaming. Within seconds, of course, so is the baby. Excessive volume on radio and TV commercials has been the largest source of complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission since 2002, when it started taking complaints. However, on Dec. 13, when the CALM law kicked in, it became a federal violation for broadcasters, cable operators and satellite operators to transmit commercials at an excessively high volume.

CALM law passed over a year ago

Advertisers know you are leaving the room during a commercial to get a cup of coffee, or to use the rest room. That’s why they crank the volume up: to make sure that you don’t miss their pitch. They are, after all, paying the bills, they would argue.

It is a problem TV viewers have been annoyed by for a very long time. It was highlighted in a fake commercial depicted in the 1980 movie “Used Cars.” In it, salesman Jeff (Gerrit Graham) smashes a car with a sledgehammer as he proclaims that his dealership succeeds through sheer volume: namely, its commercials are louder than those of its competitors.

The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act was passed by Congress more than a year ago. It has finally come into effect. The law, originally sponsored by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif. and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., passed with bipartisan support. It requires broadcasters to keep the volume of advertisements at the same level as the content programming they are contained within.

Requires metering upgrade

While compliance seems like a no-brainer, it actually required broadcasters to upgrade equipment, no doubt at great expense. The volume levels on programming and commercial media can vary greatly. The sound metering equipment used by most broadcasters is not equipped to adequately differentiate between volume levels.

Thomas Lund of TC Electronics — a provider of advanced metering devices — told the Los Angeles Times: “The old type of meter measured volts. They were just looking for technical indications of loudness, and those indications did not always relate to human perception.”

“The people who were creating the commercials learned how to exploit the meters and fly below the radar,” Lund elucidated.

Compliance and enforcement

The new law will be enforced by the FCC. It will not monitor compliance, but will instead will rely on consumer complaints. Viewers who feel a broadcaster is violating the CALM law can report it on the FCC’s website at, or by telephone at 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).


Detroit Free Press 
Los Angeles

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