Amid reports some automakers are considering dropping AM radio from their increasingly digitalized dashboards, there is what could be a growing backlash in Washington. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) is asking the heads of 20 major car brands to detail their plans for AM radio in their vehicles, and urging they keep it right where it has been for decades as a matter of public safety and national security.
“Broadcast AM radio, in particular, is a critical mechanism for government authorities to communicate with the public during natural disasters, extreme weather events, and other emergencies,” Markey writes in a letter to the automakers. He points out that AM radio’s ability to travel long distances is so well-suited for broadcasting emergency alerts, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been spending millions of dollars to upgrade those stations and make them more resilient to extreme weather and other hazards. “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 tocommunicate with the public during times of emergency. As a result, any phase-out of broadcast AM radio could pose a significant communication problem during emergencies,” Markey says.
Fears AM could fall by the wayside have percolated in radio for years. But as more auto brands introduced electric vehicles into the market, the new technology has caused electromagnetic interference with AM radio reception. Rather than adopt a fix that has been developed, some automakers have said they will simply stop putting AM in their dashboards.
But Markey says the reality that some electric vehicles have AM radio shows that the two are not “technologically incompatible” and he points out that digital radio is “less susceptible” to interference than analog AM radio. For brands that sell overseas, he notes that the European Union mandated in 2018 that all new vehicles be equipped with digital radio – and rather than that consider dropping AM they should voluntarily do the same for cars sold in the U.S. “As EVs rightfully become a greater share of new vehicles, automakers cannot defend the elimination of AM radio as necessary due to electromagnetic interference,” Markey says.
He is asking the chief executives of the car companies to go on the record about whether they have any plans to drop AM or FM from future vehicle models. Markey is also asking the companies to explain whether they’re using any technology that addresses the interference faced by AMs in electric vehicles. He also wants to know if they are installing digital radio in their vehicles. The letters were sent to car manufacturers including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda Motor, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Polestar, Rivian, Stellantis, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen Group, and Volvo.
The latest Edison Research shows 89% of people think a car tuner should be standard in every car or truck sold in the U.S. And in his letter, Markey makes it clear he is one of them.
“I write to urge your company to maintain broadcast AM radio in its current and future vehicles, including electric vehicles,” he tells the auto executives. “Broadcast AM radio remains a crucial, cost-free source of news, sports, and weather, and, more importantly, is an essential medium for public safety officials — including the president — to communicate with the public during emergencies.”