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Publisher's Letter

Sound levels a sore point on TV and elsewhere

It is fair to say that my recent Publisher’s Letters on the topics of loud TV commercials and excessive sound levels in cinemas and theatres have triggered a lively response. We have more letters on this topic in the Mailbag pages this month and since they are still coming in, there will undoubtedly be a few more next month.

I must admit to be being baffled by some of the responses to the editorial about sound levels in theatres, coming from the people who actually do the work. One response was along the lines that before anyone should think of complaining to theatre management, they should take a series of measurements around the theatre or whatever venue is involved.

How unrealistic! One does not go to a theatre, on the one hand expecting to enjoy the entertainment, and on the other expecting to be blasted and therefore also carrying a sound level meter so one can dart around the theatre making measurements. As my daughters would say, “Get real!” or worse, “Get a life!”. If one was so concerned about being blasted, that would be substantial disincentive to buying a ticket in the first place.

It seems to me that whoever is responsible for the sound levels at cinemas and elsewhere, whether it is the producer, management, disc jockey or whoever, simply does not realise that if people have to shout to communicate to the person next to them, then the sound is just too loud; no test equipment is required. That rule of thumb has been quoted by hearing experts over the decades. That it seems to be largely ignored by people who should know better is a paradox.

Mind you it also seems to me that many people are simply inured to excessive sound levels and are too timid to even think about complaining. And there is another group who are obviously well on the way to going deaf and probably need the wick wound up a bit. But still on the same theme, if people are moderately to severely deaf then it is also true that they are less able to cope with excessive sound levels; in effect, they can’t hear the soft bits and can’t stand the really loud bits. And inevitably there are some people at public performances who are too drunk or stupid to care.

We already know that a substantial proportion of the population is deaf and a lot of that deafness is due to being exposed to excessive sound levels. It is because so many people are deaf that most public venues also provide hearing loops so that people with hearing aids can listen to the performance. That is an even bigger paradox, isn’t it? Public venues provide for deaf people and then act as though the rest of the population should also be rendered deaf!

So if we already know that a significant portion of the population is already deaf and even more people are likely to be deaf in the future, doesn’t that tell us something? If the relevant authorities are ineffective at protecting the public’s hearing, then individuals must act on their own behalf.

For my part, in the future I will always take earplugs with me whenever I go to a venue where sound levels are likely to be high. I do the same thing when I use noisy power tools, just as I wear eye protection. I suggest that you do the same.

Leo Simpson


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