Several prominent carmakers have decided for some of their models to drop AM radio from the dashboard. Most of the car models are electric vehicles (EVs). Automobile companies have noted electromagnetic interference with AM radio’s reception created by electric motors.
New EVs manufactured by BMW, Porsche, Audi, Volvo, Ford F-150 Lightning truck, Volkswagen SUV and Tesla Model S have dropped AM radio. Ford announced in March plans to phase out AM radio in most of its new and updated car models, even those with internal combustion engines. Ford will keep AM radio in the Mustang Mach-E. Hyundai, which makes electric vehicles, said in a statement that it had no plans to phase out AM radio.
Today, broadcast radio continues to be the most popular source of in-car entertainment. Furthermore, over 40% of all radio listening is done in cars more than either at work or in the home.
With such a rich background, its wider reach and still listened by tens of millions, the elimination of AM radio has created a backlash from members of Congress, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), FEMA, AM station owners, political pundits, farmers and listeners.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has been a vocal proponent about keeping AM radio in car dashboards for among other reasons: national security and public safety. Markey says, “Despite innovations such as the smartphone and social media, AM/FM broadcast radio remains the most dependable, cost-free, and accessible communication mechanism for public officials to communicate with the public during times of emergency. As a result, any phaseout of broadcast AM radio could pose a significant communication problem during emergencies.”
The Wall Street Journal reports, seven former FEMA heads sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg writing in part. “Because of the great distances that its signals carry, and due to its resiliency during even the worst natural disasters, the success of the national public warning system – the only method the government has to reach every point of the country at once – hinges on its use of AM radio. However, should EV makers continue removing AM radios from their vehicles, this vital public safety system will no longer function as intended.”
In early April, the NAB launched “Depend on AM Radio” campaign highlighting the significance of in-car AM radio providing local news (including traffic reports), community engagement, entertainment and any important public safety info. The NAB has launched a website and has urged radio stations to remind their listeners on the importance of AM radio via Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and other communication means. Also, ten state broadcasting associations recently created a Dashboard Subcommittee as part of National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations (NASBA). The goal is to slow or stop the removal of AM radio from the dashboard.
Trade publication Inside Radio, which has written several articles on the topic, reports the National Association of Farm Broadcasting is another group urging automobile makers to keep AM radio in cars. For decades, farmers in rural areas have relied on small AM radio stations for agribusiness information including weather forecasts and commodity prices. An NAFB survey says radio listenership increases during the spring and summer with 75% of farmers listening for five or more days each week. Also, rural areas continue to be more dependent on AM radio since access to wi-fi and broadband is not as widespread.
In response, carmakers have been responding with consumers migrating away from news on radio/TV and government emergency systems should move to other technologies. They also cited FEMA provides recurring emergency alerts via text messages, the Emergency Alert System on radio and television stations, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather radio. Additionally they contend, in-car AM radio can be listened to on FM translators, audio streaming and via side channels of HD Radio. AM station owners counter FM translators lack the reach and the internet may not be a dependable source during emergencies.
Brief History of Broadcast Radio
AM radio has been around since 1920 and began to be installed in cars shortly thereafter. At the onset, AM radio provided live coverage of prominent live events such as Lindbergh’s historic landing in Paris and Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats to sporting events such as the boxing matches, the “Fight of the Century” between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling to the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. Also, ad supported AM radio provided scripted comedies and drama programs listened by millions, helping to promote the careers of Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and hundreds of others. AM radio also introduced the linear programming schedule still in use today. For example, the top-rated Rudy Vallee Show aired on Thursdays at 8 p.m.
In the 1950s with the arrival of television, many radio personalities moved to the new medium. With the coming of rock ‘n’ roll music however, many AM stations pivoted and Top 40 radio became a popular AM format. Youthful baby boomers have fond memories of listening to the latest pop and rock music from England, Motown and elsewhere. Pop music was listened to on such 50,000-watt “clear channel” radio stations as WLS in Chicago (890) and New York’s “Musicradio 77” WABC (770) and heard for hundreds of miles. With its wide geographic range, AM radio were also important for emergency broadcasts.
Soon afterwards, the FCC began to lift regulations on FM radio, providing music listeners with stereo enhanced sound, not subject to pops and hisses of AM radio (especially when driving near power lines). Led by newer music formats Album Oriented Rock (AOR) and classic rock, listening to FM stations surpassed AM stations by 1980. AM stations were forced to migrate again, to other formats such as 24-hour news, sports, talk/information, Spanish language and college radio. WABC became “Talkradio 77”. In 1987 the FCC repealed “The Fairness Doctrine”, allowing for talk radio to become more politicized leading to Rush Limbaugh and others. To this day, the list of the most listened to radio programs are hosted by political pundits, largely heard on AM radio.
AM Radio Today
Nowadays, there are about 4500 AM radio stations nationwide. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) estimates 82 million Americans listen to AM radio monthly. Nielsen says AM radio still accounts for 20% share of terrestrial radio listening, with time spent listening to the AM dial hovers around two hours each day.
With news, talk/information and sports among the most popular formats, AM radio remains popular with older baby boomers. About one-third of AM radio listeners are older than 65. A survey from Pew Research, conducted over the summer of 2022, found 47% of Americans get news from the radio at least some of the time. BIA estimates local AM radio generated $1.95 billion in ad revenue last year.
The sales of EV’s have been growing they account for 5.8% of new car sales last year up from 1.8% two years ago. The New York Times