Is AM radio in PM of its life?


Ford Motor Car Company announced a few weeks ago that starting in 2024 their cars and trucks would no longer have AM radio.  That’s a decision I don’t understand.  I guess Ford and I aren’t on the same wavelength.

Ford wanted to drive toward eliminating AM, hit the brakes, then shifted into neutral when the criticism started, sat in park to think about it and then decided to put their decision into reverse. I guess that proves the transmission of AM is still working fine in Ford vehicles.

Older Americans make up the biggest demographic of people listening to AM radio.  You know, the group losing their hearing as they age. Most vehicles still come with AM and FM radio.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both.  AM radio has longer wavelengths than FM and as a result can be heard farther away.  However, the bigger wavelengths don’t fit well under overpasses and such, which is why you lose the signal during a baseball game with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth you were listening to when driving in the city.  But AM wavelengths can also go through solid objects well (like my head), whereas FM radio will not.

AM signals can also carry for hundreds of miles, reaching farmers in their plows, combines and tractors everywhere, while FM signals (usually of better-quality) peter out pretty quickly.  As a result, talk radio is better suited for AM and music for FM.  That’s why farmers have never heard of Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga, but they know everything about soybean prices and the cost of pork bellies.

Ford claimed their data showed that only 5% of their customers were using AM radio, so they decided it wasn’t needed anymore.  However, the National Association of Broadcasters claims over 80 million people listen to AM radio. So, I guess it all depends on who you’re listening to. I bet there are lots of options people don’t use on their cars anymore, but they’re not in a hurry to exclude those.

My cigarette lighter?  I forgot the thing was even in there.  The glovebox?  I use it to store my unpaid parking and speeding tickets, a first aid kit, and the vehicle owner’s manual.  But the last thing you will find in there is a pair of gloves.  

I guess it’s all part of holding on to what we’ve always known and not wanting to let go.  Some carmakers have already gotten rid of AM radio. BMW, Tesla, and a few other carmakers have already pulled it and nobody batted an eye.  I suppose those people are a little more affluent than the rest of us and have high-speed satellite internet to entertain them while driving, so I can see why they might not miss it.  What’s that say about the income levels of us Ford drivers?  Never mind; I think I already know.

The people at Ford are probably ecstatic at the free attention they are getting, since there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Unless of course the publicity is enough to attract the attention of the US government.  Which it did.  Uh oh.

Congress has decided to mandate that carmakers include AM radio, since drivers need to hear emergency broadcasts on the nationwide Emergency Alert System.  Never mind that you can get these on FM radio, your smartphone, or satellite radio.  Since most drivers are usually glued to their smartphones texting someone, Facetiming or taking a selfie anyway, they can be sure to get emergency messages when needed.

Even famous French philosopher René Descartes, a strong proponent of the medium famously said “cogito ergo sum,” which is Latin for “I think, therefore I AM.”  Of course, AM radio had yet to be invented for another 300 years, so I guess you could say that was a classic example of putting “Descartes before da horse.”

No one knows the future of AM radio, but I’m sure there will be changes. Stay tuned.

Joe Crawford is a longtime Alton resident who frequently writes columns for the The Telegraph. He can be contacted at

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