TYLER, Texas (KLTV) – For people living in Henderson and Rusk County, KWRD Radio truly is the heartbeat of their community.
“Local, local, local. Keeping it local. Henderson local,” said Ken Miller, a KWRD representative.
It’s local programming like community news and high school sports that keeps people tuning in to the station’s 5,000-watt daytime AM signal that covers the entire county.
But with automakers like Tesla and Ford now phasing out AM radio in new electric vehicles, some KWRD listeners may be left without access to things they not only like to hear but need to hear.
“80% of America is rural,” Miller said. “The AM signal reaches out further than the FM signal does. It saves thousands of lives every year.”
Lives saved through the emergency alert system (EAS) broadcast on AM stations all across the country. Automakers argue drivers will still have alternative sources to receive alerts. Broadcasters say aside from FM radio, those options rely on the internet.
“Maybe you guys have better internet than I do, but it seems to just go off at the most inopportune times. AM radio can still work,” said Chuck Conrad with the Texas Broadcast Museum in Kilgore.
Conrad said that AM radio is the simplest form of broadcasting. So simple that during World War II people could make AM radios using an old razor blade, safety pin, toilet paper tube, a little bit of wire, pencil led and some headphones, he said.
When it comes to the reason given by automakers for not including AM in new electric cars, they say it’s the interference created by electric motors.
“People complain my AM radio doesn’t sound very good in my $80,000 Tesla,” Conrad said. “Well, okay, how about let’s fix that?”
“Most of these radios are what are called ‘software defined radios.’ They’re basically little computers. They’re not radios like we used to think of, like the ones we have here in the museum, and turning on AM or FM or whatever is merely just a software change. So, it’s not that really a big deal,” Conrad said.
Conrad said frankly, he thinks it’s time for broadcasters and listeners to reach out to lawmakers.
“We need to make sure that those voices remain strong,” said Congressman Nathaniel Moran, who represents much of East Texas. Moran believes the elimination of in-car AM radio may even be politically motivated.
“AM radio for so long has been a voice of conservatism. Seems to me that that’s really the target here by what the FCC and the FTC may be doing to try to run some of the conservative voices out of the ears of people day to day,” Moran said.
Moran also pointed out the lifesaving emergency alerts provided by AM stations. Especially in rural areas like Henderson and Rusk County, where KWRD’s Ken Miller would certainly like to see a place for AM radio in new cars, while acknowledging listeners will still have access.
“You can remove the AM frequency from the vehicle itself and your AM radio listener in the vehicle over time may be eliminated,” Miller said. “That does not take away the AM signal in the household that’s listening to the AM station because the signal is so strong.”
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