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