The CALM Act Hasn't Made All Commercials Quieter

The FCC is receiving complaints from consumers saying commercials remain louder than other programming.

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"Now you can own a piece of American presidential history," the announcer shouts, as animated fireworks and images of President Barack Obama play across the television screen. "This limited edition coin is now available to the American public for the first time ever through this special offer!"

The commercial for an "Obama Victory Coin" sounds louder than the MSNBC news report that came before it. But it shouldn't, since the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act went into effect on December 13, requiring television stations to play commercials at the same audio level as the programming that accompanies them.

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Part of the trouble may be an apparent loophole in the language of the CALM Act, which states that a commercial must be no louder on average. That means the Obama Victory Coin announcer can shout loudly at the beginning of the ad so long as the middle of the ad is softer.

And some broadcasters may be flaunting the rules. The Federal Communications Commission, charged with enforcing the CALM Act, has already started receiving complaints from consumers about what sound like overloud commercials on television, though it declines to say how many. It is evaluating how best to respond to them.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., left, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., right, the sponsors of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM bill, mark the implementation of the federal law that requires TV ads be no louder than the programs that accompany them, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., left, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., right, the sponsors of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM bill, mark the implementation of the federal law that requires TV ads be no louder than the programs that accompany them, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who introduced the CALM Act in 2008, acknowledges to Whispers that "there likely will be some stations that fail to follow the rules." But Wicker also says it is up to the FCC to "take reasonable corrective action," and up to viewers to "help the FCC by identifying stations that they believe have not adhered to the new law."

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Joel Kelsey, legislative director of the media reform nonprofit Free Press, believes viewers will have no trouble complaining.

"This is the most commented-on issue [to the FCC] over the last 40 years," says Kelsey, who testified before Congress in 2009 about the need for commercial volume control. "So I expect that as long as it's a problem that persists in the marketplace, consumers will draw attention to it."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.