When the Federal Communications Commission created the Travelers’ Information Station service in 1977, broadcasters did not like the idea of creating low-power AM stations to reach drivers along America’s highways. The FCC said then that radio’s “strong opposition” was based on a belief that it would duplicate existing radio service, would cut into station revenue, and would be a waste of tax dollars. But 46 years later, those AMs may help make the case for convincing the Department of Transportation to take a more active role in the debate of whether automakers should be required to feature AM in their dashboards.
Earlier this year, seven former officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to take steps to keep AM in cars. They argued that it was a matter of national security, with many AMs playing vital roles in the national public warning system. Buttigieg has so far been supportive, but noncommittal. During an interview in April, he agreed AM plays an “important role” but also said that he was unsure of “a formal legal role” his department has in the matter. “It’s certainly something that will be on our mind as we remain in dialogue with the auto industry and with related industries when it comes to transportation,” Buttigieg said.
Manufacturers of the car models that have removed AM have argued that emergency alerts can be accessed via FM stations or through mobile-based technology. But one of the motivations behind the FCC decision to create the highway stations remains an advantage for AM. Unlike new technologies, AM stations work in tunnels and mountain passes, as an Inside Radio reader in rural Washington points out.
That is one of the motivating factors behind the Commission decades ago creating the Travelers’ Information Stations. It pointed out that in Wyoming, the state highway department was looking forward to using them since they could transmit road conditions and weather updates when road signs were obstructed by the severe weather conditions.
“It is apparent that many of those commenting would use this service to transmit travel related emergency messages concerning natural disasters (e.g., forest fires, floods, etc.), traffic accidents and hazards, and related bulletins affecting the immediate welfare of citizens. Therefore, we believe that a definite need and public interest for TIS has been documented ,” the Commission said in its 1977 order.
Today, most Travelers’ Advisory Stations operate at AM 530, which was reserved by the FCC for this purpose. Some are also on the expanded band frequencies of 1610 AM to 1700 AM. In a nod to their role, the service is not administered by the Media Bureau at the FCC, but rather the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.
The American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO) – the trade group that represents information stations – has written to Congress supporting radio industry efforts to keep AM in the dashboard.
“One only needs to review the history of storm and wildfire evacuations to see the value and importance of the rapid and reliable dissemination of emergency information,” the group says. “Emergency-hardened broadcast stations and local 10-watt emergency radio stations trump all other methodologies because they will stay on when fragile digital services are swamped or compromised,” the Association says in a statement outlining its position.
See a list of all the information stations HERE.