Senate will soon vote on whether to require AM radio in new cars

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AM radio in automobiles may live to broadcast another day—or indefinitely.

Last December, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to 20 auto manufacturers asking the companies whether they plan to, or already have, discontinued access to free broadcast AM radio in their vehicles, including any battery-powered models. Of the 20 companies, eight—BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo—said yes. 

Ten automakers—Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Lucid, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stellantis, Subaru, and Toyota — still maintained access to broadcast AM radio in their vehicles, they said. Two additional automakers, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors, refused to provide individual responses and instead relied on a message from the industry trade group, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which claims that AM radio is a technology that has lost its potency; while AM radio is “the backbone” of the Emergency Alert System according to the National Association of Broadcasters, the AAI claims that it is no longer relevant.

The results of the inquiry prompted Markey and his colleague across the aisle, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to introduce legislation in May of 2023 called the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act. The Act would require that car manufacturers include AM radio in every new vehicle, including electric ones, at no charge.

We mention electric vehicles because manufacturers say that the electric powertrain interferes with the AM signal and that circumventing that interference is difficult. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation has pushed back, saying there are other ways for the public to receive emergency warnings besides the AM band.

“Whether or not AM radio is physically installed in vehicles in the future has no bearing on the multiple methods of delivering emergency communications alerts to the public,” said AAI CEO John Bozzella. “Mandating audio features in a vehicle isn’t necessary. Congress hasn’t ever gone this route, especially in a competitive environment with so many choices, many of them free.”

Ford, for one, has backtracked on its decision to drop AM.

Last week, Markey and Cruz “celebrated the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s vote to advance the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act.” They say the Act should go to the full Senate floor for a vote “sometime this year,” following the August recess.

“Today’s vote to advance the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act sends a clear signal to carmakers,” said Senator Markey. “AM radio is an essential communication tool during emergencies, and for decades has been a source of news, entertainment, sports, and music for tens of millions of drivers. I thank Senator Cruz for his partnership as we work to cut through the noise and uphold access to AM radio as we plug into our clean-energy, all-electric future.”

The radio in a 1986 Ford Mustang GT Cameron Neveu

“AM radio serves a critical function during emergencies,” said Senator Cruz. “It reliably gets important information to the public, which is why several former FEMA administrators and representatives of the emergency response community have called for AM radio to remain in vehicles. AM radio is also vital to free expression and viewpoint diversity. With low barriers to entry, it allows Americans, especially conservatives, to communicate their points of view and help free speech flourish.”

According to DGR News, the House version of the bill is pending, with bipartisan support that includes 70 Republican and 68 Democrat cosponsors of the bill. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) said that of the 4000 AM stations in the country, 1500 broadcast largely to farmers and ranchers with agricultural news. “Minnesotans look to AM radio for everything from news and weather updates to music and sports scores. It’s critical to protect AM radio for our communities, but right now, it’s on the chopping block,” said Klobuchar. “That’s why I’ve been working to pass the AM for Every Vehicle Act, and now this legislation is one step closer to becoming law,” she said in a statement. 

Talk show host Sean Hannity told the Los Angeles Times that most of his 13 million listeners tune in on AM. He’s ready to draw attention to any and all auto companies that remove the band: “If they’re being obstinate about this, I’m just gonna name the names and let people know that they’re silencing conservative voices here,” Hannity said. “I don’t think they’ve put a lot of thought into it.”




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    I have listened to AM radio for various types of programming since the 1950s. Of course, I also listen to FM stations, but there is not the variety on FM as on AM. I realize that by stating that I continue to use something from the 1950s that I’m opening myself up to people saying “stop being such an old fuddy-duddy and get with the modern times”. However, I still use plate, glasses, forks, knives and spoons just like the ones I had 70 years ago too – so do I need to learn how to do without those? Sheesh, are they coming to take my toilets next?

    You make it sound like it’s government mandated (are they coming to take my toilets next), which of course it isn’t. People complain about big brother. Personally, I couldn’t care less about AM and I’m a boomer. Radios used to optional equipment and I think car makers should be able to offer or sell what they want. Safety equipment is one thing. Talk radio is another.

    AM radio can be considered safety equipment. I’ve lived in the country, and still every so often each year am driving in areas with poor cell coverage. On one of those trips a few years ago, I got warning of a tornado that was crossing the road I was on in the town ahead of me on the EAS on the AM station I was listening to. I got no alert on my phone because I had no service. I was also pretty far from any FM radio station coverage (AM usually travels much farther). Visibility was nil and I probably wouldn’t have seen it until I drove into it.

    Another possibility is a hacking attack on cell phone networks. AM radio, being pretty much analog, would still allow for alert broadcasts in such an emergency.

    The manufactures should be allowed to sell what they want. Fine, but what about the consumer being stuck with standard equipment we don’t want?
    How about we make that damn TV screen and all the nonsense involved an option? You have any idea how involved removing that thing is?
    Once it’s gone the opening holds analogue gauges and a CD player and disconnecting the ambilocal cord gets you off the surveillance screen.

    I am sure that the manufacturers would not leave a hole in the dashboard where the button was to go from AM to FM! It appears you don’t listen to either anyway. You probably don’t know the valve stem caps are an “optional” item started in the 1960’s for the same argument, MONEY. Win or lose this argument, whomever buys a vehicle will pay!

    If Senator Amy is for the bill, you can hardly pin the bill with the “anti-conservative” moniker.

    She’s pleasing a big constituency of hers in MN. I’m sure she’d be fine otherwise if conservative talk radio lost a broadcast outlet.

    Her job is to improve or maintain the quality of life for the people she represents. Sounds like she’s doing her job.

    You have it exactly backwards. “Big Brother” is the one trying to force auto makers to keep AM radios in cars.

    They force them to have regulated bumpers, fuel efficiency, third brake lights, and backup cameras. So why not radios?

    You have put the spotlight on what “Big Brother” does…. Big Brother thinks we are all stupid. Examples are seat belts. Seat belts are a good idea, but we should not be required to use them. I am not against safety devices, as I always use a seat belt. What bothers me, (and should you…) is Government agencies infringing more and more on our civil liberties. Less Government than more please!

    While I am not a fan of government intervention, we were all taught as early as driver’s education (at least I was), that driving is not a right, it’s a privilege. As such, the government can make compulsory such things as seat belt and helmet usage for motorcycles.

    As a subscriber to satellite radio for over 20 years, I can’t remember when I last listened to anything on AM but can understand the need for access in rural areas where cell tower coverage is spotty or non-existent.

    Sorry Jim, hardly anyone used seat belts until the Federal Government attached a bill to State’s highway money. Many, many lives were saved after that. You only need to talk to an ER Doctor. Sometimes, the government does good.

    Just what’s needed, more legislation. In the 50’s you paid extra for just about everything including a radio. The joke was you might have to buy the steering wheel.

    No joke. A friend of mine bought a hew Mustang back the year the first “big” Mustangs hit the market. The salesman tried to sell him an automatic – “only” x dollars more. He wanted the standard three speed manual. So the salesman tried hawking four on the floor for “only” y dollars more. Bill insisted that he wanted the standard transmission. The salesman said, “Well that would be a special order. That will cost you another $200.” Bill said “You mean I don’t get ANY transmission with this car?”

    It’s probably time in the very near future to start phasing out AM but as someone who does a lot of traveling there are so many state and national parks that use AM radio for information and also you see these signs along the highway for traffic and other information. You would think it would be easy to transition to FM but it would take legislative action to transition the National Parks to an alternative means of getting the information out.

    Come on guys. They “claim” there are 13 million people that “listen to AM radio”. There are 350 million people in the US. I am a boomer and you have to be kidding me that people, with all the choices on FM and Sirius/XM, you are listening to the gibberish on AM. Crazy.

    Seriously! I agree.

    And it’s stupid to think that AM is the only means to communicate in an emergency! As though it’s impossible to do on an FM signal, or anything else for that matter. But if no one’s listening to AM, what would be the point of communicating an emergency on AM, anyway? You can shout all you want, but if no one is there to listen, it’s pointless.

    AM was used for emergency alerts back when there was no FM. It continued were few radio stations and there could be large gaps in rural areas with little-to-no FM coverage. But that era has long since passed.

    You’d have to be tuned to an AM radio station even to know an alert was being broadcast. Far more people could actually receive emergency alerts on their phones. Die, AM, die!

    AM has a MUCH farther reach – you can almost ALWAYS get an AM signal – it may not be crystal clear, but you can get it – while FM reception can be very spotty “out in the sticks”. AM is a longer wave signal and can bounce off the ionosphere – where FM can not – and FM is shielded by buildings and mountains (shadow effect) MUCH more than AM. Yes , the sound (as well as much of the content) is crap – but the signalgets through – which is important for emergency comms

    Very good point on the signal strength. I can travel over 100 miles and still faintly listen to traffic and weather at the 8’s. FM doesn’t go nearly 1/3 of the distance. For the record I’m a Gen X’er and still listen to AM occasionally. Not necessarily an “Old Man” thing.

    Yep. AM radio out in the boondocks saved my life from a tornado once. No phone reception and no FM stations were available on my car radio where I was.

    I hear you on this. The only AM radio I even have access to is the one in my car, and I have not used AM in any of my last 5 vehicles going back to the early 2000s. If the disaster everyone is worried about happens, I will be oblivious to whatever alert they happen to broadcast unless I happen to be in my vehicle and somehow already aware something is going down that would require me to tune into an AM station. So, if the emergency is one I don’t know about, how do I know to go to my car to learn about it? Kind of a Catch 22, I need the AM radio to know about emergencies, but I only know to use the AM to learn about the emergency because I already know about the emergency? This is the definition of stupidity. I get some people use it, let it be an option, but for everyone’s sake, let’s look at an alternative emergency system that is actually in mainstream common use, like say mandating an AM antenna (or how about the fact that Qualcomm SoC’s in cell phones will actually connect to Iridium satellites starting this year, giving global basic signal for SMS, how about we use that?) in Cell Phones or something of that nature.

    I guess you will want to get rid of the “air raid” sirens that are tested every first Tuesday of the month. That system is old and antiquated too. But hey, if you hear that siren, you might want to jump into your car and turn on the AM radio for details on what is going on. OH, that’s right, you don’t have one…. that’s too bad…..

    They already got rid of the sirens here in San Diego decades ago,
    I Used to listen for them at noon every first Monday of the month when I was a kid.

    Well, after all — who would attack San Diego?
    “It’s not like Boston is a big college town.”

    Well said, can’t believe this is even an issue. Leave the AM in the car and if you don’t like it, don’t use it. Seems nonsensical that people are getting their panties so twisted about this issue.

    Mr. Zimmerman, don’t let your personal bias be your guide, look up the top rated radio programs – many broadcast on AM. 13 million is a conservative number for many of the individual shows. By comparison, Sirius-XM has about 34 million TOTAL subscriptions.

    No doubt, it’s the conservative content that is being challenged. Most people will get their hazzard warnings from their phones.

    The point is emergency communications. The mobile phone network is often not that resilient, typically under very heavy load or during natural disasters.

    In a serious public emergency, I’d expect a communication network encompassing all media including FM radio might be useful.

    How do you suppose people will actually hear the “emergency communication” if no one is even listening to AM? Oh, and when is the last time there even was an “emergency communication.” That’s a red herring for old AM die-hards afraid to let go. 🤣

    No, the real point is that the government sells licenses to broadcasters. Reduce the number of listeners, and you’ll reduce the number of broadcasters. That’ll cut revenue for the FCC. Can’t have that.

    Provided the phones work.

    EAS broadcasts through AM radio waves are a long established mechanism of warning and the frequency is better suited than cell signals, which degrade over a much shorter distance and are often overwhelmed in an emergency.

    Will home builders be required to install AM radio too…next to your toilet? How about John Deere? Schwinn? Buy a transistor radio and carry it wherever you go…oh wait, Radio Shack is closed…wonder why? There’s an App for that!

    Transistor Radio ???
    Went to Best Buy a couple of years ago with an aging Uncle who was looking to replace his favorite old Transistor Radio now on the fritz.
    I figured a day out would be good for the old guy so we wandered in to BB and asked one of the kids working there where the Transistor Radios were.
    As you guessed it, the kid said “What’s a Transistor Radio?”

    The majority of AM stations have an internet presence and/or an app. Anyone with a smart phone can stream them to their car audio through Bluetooth or USB. Unlike broadcast AM, the quality is perfect. No need to legislate this.

    The smart phone depends on cellular coverage – which is spotty at best in much of the country – and requires the user to have a data plan – which can be an expensive proposition

    Except cell service is more vulnerable in an emergency and AM is required to have back-up power for emergency broadcasts.
    Never mind that AM is a better band for long-range broadcast compared to FM. In an emergency, just stare at your phone, it will be fine.

    I listen to AM at rush hour because in my area one strong AM station has the best traffic reports. The rest of the day they make up conspiracy theories and whine about liberal media picking on them. The above illustrations show what radio modifications should really be outlawed- the removal of haptic controls in favor of screens. I can feel the radio controls at 70 MPH but have to take my eyes off the road to stare at the screen to make any kind of adjustments. Now that’s a major safety hazard.

    Numerous cars have the ability to hear all digital HD Radio ™ AM radio which some stations are converting to and more will follow. As to Sirius/ XM the sound is no better than AM due to the low bit rate and the CODEC they use. In fact on my 2023 car I had the option to delete my Siriust/XM antenna which I did.

    Not worried much about the AM mandate, wish they would drop the low air pressure tire sensors mandate…pain in the…

    The low tire sensor are pure stupidity. You can’t even rotate tires with out programming the sensor. So back to the dealership

    I really don’t even listen to FM anymore.

    My phone connects with 20,000 songs on mix play and no commercials.

    95% of people under 40 are probably streaming their music from their phones. Of all the means to receive media in the car, I would bet good money that AM has the fewest listeners.

    Actually check the ratings books. In most major cities AM news talk stations have the largest share. So a city of 500,000 for example the AM station will have a 10% share leading all the FM stations by 1-2% which is a audience of 30,000 at any given time.. Property owners concerned for stocks and constitutional issues keep AM on all the time.

    Can they mandate the inclusion of the CD player or FLAC file capacity? That would be useful to me. All joking aside in the middle of nowhere AM is pretty much all I can get as the phones can’t get a 4G/5G signal.

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