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Why are radio stations allowed to air commercials or songs that include sirens and car horns?

Patrick Gannon

We’ve all heard the car horns on the radio and think they’re coming from outside the car.

But the First Amendment and federal law prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from censoring broadcast material and from interfering with freedom of expression in broadcasting.

Each radio station is responsible for choosing everything they broadcast and deciding how to edit material for broadcast.

The FCC doesn’t substitute its judgment for that of a station when it comes to artistic standards, format, grammar or quality of programming. That also applies to a station’s commercials, with the exception of political candidates’ ads during an election.

An FCC spokeswoman said you may want to contact the particular radio station in writing to discuss your public safety concerns, as broadcasters often consider listeners’ comments when establishing programming practices.

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10 Responses to “ Why are radio stations allowed to air commercials or songs that include sirens and car horns?”

  1. On September 15, 2010 at 7:36 pm Wayne wrote:

    I know one should never say “never” or “always”. That being said, I don’t recall ever hearing sirens or car horn sounds on the radio. IMO, this is a non-issue.

  2. On September 16, 2010 at 8:20 am Mister wrote:

    The sirens and horns on commercials are annoying. Most motorists are oblivious to an approaching emergency vehicle that has its lights & sirens on anyways. The radio ads alow the motorist to get complacent with hearing a siren and thinking nothing of it.

    The FCC does in fact sensor tv and radio, despite what they say. People get fined for saying things on the radio all the time.

    Most of the commercials (which there are now more of than music on local FM stations) are the reason I switched to satellite radio. I can listen to the same station no matter where I go, less mouth blabbing by some “morning show host” that mostly does commercials and pushes products, or one that just plain talks all the time instead of playing music. The music channels don’t have commercials either.

    And now in these radio commercials, they repeat the toll free phone numbers like 4 or 5 times in a row now. The Moore Buick, Pontiac & GMC commercials from Jacksonville were the worst.

  3. On September 16, 2010 at 9:41 am Meghan wrote:

    Wow. I’ve always wondered this. There have been a number of times when there was a siren or horn honking on the radio and I thought it was coming from outside the car. I think there are plenty of attention getting sounds that will not alarm the driver into thinking there is an accident, a hazard, or emergency vehicle approaching. I wish radio stations and advertisers would be more conscious of this.

  4. On September 16, 2010 at 10:43 am johnnny wrote:

    Not just annoying, but dangerous…I either hit the brakes harder or get off the gas and slow down when I hear that junk.

    I also immediately make note of the station, and change it for good.

  5. On September 17, 2010 at 7:18 am Susan wrote:

    This is one of my pettest peeves. I also change the station immediately and try never to listen to it again. I don’t listen to much commercial radio now anyway, just WHQR and Sirius. I guess the others can toot away to their heart’s desire, but I hope they don’t scare someone into hitting me.

  6. On September 23, 2010 at 8:23 am Roger wrote:

    Despite the First Amendment, it is illegal to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, unless the threat is real. It could and should be illegal to broadcast sirens on the radio as it can be dangerously distracting. A natural tendency, when one cannot tell the source of a siren, is to look in the mirrors thereby taking one’s eyes off the road. This is more dangerous than when there is a real emergency vehicle approaching since other drivers will also be alerted and will be driving more cautiously.

  7. On September 29, 2010 at 8:05 am Henry Duncan wrote:

    I hope local broadcasters are reading these comments concerning all the talk and less music on the FM channels in Wilmington. I have HD radio in the car and home, but the only station broadcasting in HD is WHQR. In other cities most radio stations are broadcasting secondary HD channels of mostly music with a wide range of options from jazz to bluegrass to oldies to alternative with no talk. Wilmington TV stations were the first to go digital, but our local radio stations don’t want to broadcast in the new HD format. All the local stations are owned by big companies (Cumulus,Capital/Sunrise,and Sea-Comm) and broadcast in HD in other cities but not here. Take a HD receiver to Raleigh or Charleston and you will be amazed at what you can hear No wonder so many listeners are leaving local radio for satellite if the Wilmington radio market will not keep up with the times.

  8. On November 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm joyce wrote:

    Thought I was the only person who was bothered by this, agree sirens rattle me and wish the people who misuse them would rethink their approach to attention-getting in their commercials. I am equally turned off by commercials that scream their dialog………and make an efford NOT to by their product.

  9. On November 19, 2010 at 9:09 am Wayne Thomas wrote:

    As a former Broadcaster, owning and managing radio stations. The statement that the FCC does not censor broadcasting is not completely true(remember Geoge Carlen’s list of words?)

    The National Association of Broadcasters does have a Code of Practices that discourages the type of commercials that fein an emergency. Any Broadcaster or Programmer worth their weight would not air such garbage, though some do.

    My philosophy and instruction was that to use such sound effects or to mock a station interruption was a fraud, and merely a substitution for a really creative and effective ad. The owner of the radio station always maintains the power to choose to not run any ad it considers offensive. Ironically though the Station cannot exercise that judgement on Political Campaign ads, they must run them all regardless of content.

    The beauty of the airwaves in a System as ours is you can always select another station or send a check to XM or NPR, though commercial are slowly finding their way on those airwaves which creates a conundrum for the listener

  10. On December 23, 2013 at 1:23 am BWms wrote:

    Stevenson Mazda/Kia is an offender in this regard.

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