Even if you don’t listen to AM radio, the medium has long been a source for crucial information and entertainment.
From driving information to weather reports, emergency broadcasts, news and talk shows, AM radio has been a presence in Americans’ everyday lives for the past century. Now, as the automotive landscape continues to shift, some automakers are eliminating the AM band from their infotainment systems in some electric vehicles. Tesla is a good case in point on that front, as are BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Volvo and Volkswagen, as a recent Washington Post piece points out. Ford is going a step further than most, however, announcing it would cut AM radio from all its vehicles, including gas-powered models like the new Mustang.
The move sparked consternation among stations, listeners and politicians alike. “This is a tone-deaf display of complete ignorance about what AM radio means to Americans,” trade journal Talkers publisher Michael Harrison told the Post. “It’s not the end of the world for radio, but it is the loss of an iconic piece of American culture.”
Believe it or not, there are still a surprising number of AM stations broadcasting across the country. Listeners can tune into a few of 4,185 stations through their car stereo, and those frequencies broadcast information and entertainment to 82 million Americans each month, according to the National Association of Broadcasters. It was the prominent source of information through most of the 20th century. However, technological updates eventually brought us FM radio as well as satellite radio and streaming stations, as well as podcasts.
Ford argues less than 5% of its customers (driving internet-connected vehicles, where they can ascertain that kind of data) listen to AM radio. What’s more, those stations also offer streaming options or broadcast the same information on FM sister stations. This “technological innovation,” Ford said in a letter to Democratic Senator Ed Markey, “has afforded consumers many additional options to receive the same or similar information.”
For some outlets, AM is the only option right now.
Among all the entertainment options reaching modern audiences, the Blue Oval may have a compelling point for some. However, local AM radio stations also play a significant role in alerting local communities to imminent public safety threats. Be they floods, fires, tornadoes or any other emergency, first responders lean on AM radio to broadcast critical information, especially to folks in remote areas who can’t or don’t receive that information through other means.
WNGS Radio in Murfreesboro, Tennessee put out a call-to-action for their listeners to contact Congress to address the issue. In that call, the outlet notes that Ford owners actually comprise 25% of that 80-million-plus AM radio market. Beyond some listeners’ preference to stick with AM, the medium is also a place where they can get information catered toward their needs, from local news to political talk shows. In the Midwest, agricultural radio information broadcasts on AM.
Keeping AM radio is a popular sentiment across the spectrum
Politicians from both sides of the political aisle are lobbying automakers to reverse their decisions to drop AM radio from their vehicles. It’s a trend we’ve prominently seen with electric vehicles, where companies note the vehicles’ motors interfere with AM frequency signals. Stations and activists, however, say listeners will accept that interference much the same as they accepted static from power lines or during thunderstorms.
What’s more, AM radio is a medium through which conservative talk show hosts, minority-owned stations and religious groups reach their targeted audience. In response to automakers’ decisions to drop the AM band from their new vehicles, all those parties are urging their listeners to petition Congress and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to stop its demise.
So far, several companies outside the eight listed above say they have no near-term plans to scrap AM radio in their cars. General Motors, which said it would drop Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in its future EVs for an in-house solution, did not comment either way to the media or to Sen. Markey’s questions.