How loud is too loud? It's a question that comes up quite a bit. Is your muffler too loud? Your dog's barking? Your leaf blower? All of these are pretty subjective and not likely to be settled easily.
How about the sound of your fingers hitting the laptop keys as you sit in the Amtrak quiet car? Believe it or not, this is a not-infrequent source of controversy.
Ah, but here's something just about everyone has complained about, at least occasionally: those blaring TV commercials. Don't take it lightly. We heard from Anonymous of Pearland, Texas, last May and he was ready to take DirecTV out for a good thrashing.
"FCC had made it illegal for loud commercials but DTV still blows us out of the house and provides audio for the main program that requires full volume to hear," Anon said. Actually, he had his fact wrong about there already being an FCC rule in effect last May but nevertheless he raises a good point.
After all, everyone agrees commercials are too loud, right? Well, actually, no. Broadcasters don't think so. But as of today, there is a new cop on the loud-commercial beat and it is none other than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the ancient and somewhat creaking agency that, among other sterling achievements, has listed the seven words that must never be uttered on TV, adjudicated numerous wardrobe malfunctions and, back in the day, addressed any number of complaints about supposed political bias creeping into news programs.
Well, be calm because as of today, a new rule takes effective. It's called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM -- get it?).
The rule -- actually a bunch of rules bundled under one acronym -- was adopted a year ago but broadcasters were given a year to get bigger volume control knobs.
But anyway, assuming the rule is more widely observed than your average traffic law, it should make life a little more relaxing, although broadcasters and advertising agencies fear their efforts won't satisfy everyone.
The problem is partly one of context, say those in the ad biz. Most TV shows have their high spots and their low spots -- moments that are noisy and other moments that are quiet, in other words.
If you think about your average commercial break, it often comes at a dramatic moment, just as the female lead gazes wistfully out the bedroom window after discovering her significant other is perhaps not as significant as she had thought.
As the curtains lightly flutter in the breeze and a cloud drifts by, the image fades and BAM! You're in Ford Country where big tough cowboys are loudly abusing their pickup trucks.
OK, that's jarring.
And then there's the matter of average loudness. While dramas, as noted above, have highs and lows, commercials mostly have highs. Everyone is so darned happy about their nice clean shirts that they just can't shut up about it.
So the new CALM rules say that commercials should have roughly the same average loudness level as the programs that surround them. Just how this will be accomplished is anyone's guess but keep your ears on and we'll know soon enough.
If you feel that a given commercial is unbearably blaring and you have plenty of time on your hands, there is even a complaint form you can fill out on the FCC site.
But maybe you're one of those rugged individualists who don't want the government bumbling around in your life, even when it's trying to help. If so, you might want to explore this free-market solution: Samsung now makes TVs that have a feature called Auto Volume.
Here's how Samsung describes it:
Auto Volume automatically adjusts the volume of the desired channel, lowering the sound output when the modulation signal is high or raising the sound output when the modulation signal is low. This reduces the difference in volume when changing channels. The Auto Volume feature can be set to Normal, Night or Off.
And why didn't Samsung -- or somebody -- do this years ago? Sorry, we can't answer that.