There are more than 4,400 licensed AM stations across the country. Of those, the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) says more than 1,500 provide agriculture programming. It is why the trade group has stepped into the fight to preserve AM radio in cars and truck dashboards. That is allowing the radio industry to open a second front in its battle. While state associations have mainly focused on transportation and public safety policymakers, NAFB is focusing on congressional committees dealing with agricultural and rural issues.
The latest move is a letter to Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The NAFB says its aim is to cast a spotlight on the actions some automakers are taking to remove radio from their vehicles – especially AM radio.
“In rural America, AM radio is critical for those without reliable cellular or broadband access,” the NAFB Board says. “Farmers in the field and on rural roadways, not connected to cellular or broadband, also turn to AM radio for the latest weather updates, crop reports, local information, and entertainment. For farmers and ranchers, radio continues to be the primary source of daily agricultural news for listeners throughout the year.”
NAFB says research it commissioned shows ag radio consumers are listening for at least one hour on a typical weekday on average, as more than 76% listen to the radio for agriculture markets, news, weather, and other information more than five days a week. The data also shows listeners to ag radio consistently rate their farm broadcasters high in credibility, accuracy, and timeliness for information.
In asking for Stabenow’s help, NAFB points out radio’s role during emergencies and the reality that rural areas across the country are subject to extreme weather conditions such as tornados, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes. “When these extreme weather events occur and both the power and cell service are out, AM radio becomes a literal lifeline for rural Americans. As the backbone of the Emergency Alert System, the car radio often is the only way for people to get information, sometimes for days at a time,” NAFB told the lawmaker.
Stabenow’s allegiances to her home state of Michigan could be tested on the issue. When Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) surveyed the top 20 U.S. automakers, the results looked ominous for radio as eight of them have already removed AM broadcast from their electric vehicles. And one major automaker, Ford, has already announced its intent to remove AM radio from their entire fleet of non-commercial vehicles beginning in 2024.
“We ask you help us convey to auto manufacturers the importance of AM broadcast radio to America’s farmers and Americans living in rural communities across the United States,” the NAFB letter says. “Removing AM radio from vehicles will put into serious jeopardy an important lifeline and source of information to rural America, not just during times of emergency events but every single day.”
Some Michigan lawmakers have already begun to break with the car companies. Eight House Representatives in Ford's home state of Michigan have sent a letter to its board making a case for keeping the legacy band in cars.
“Not only is AM still widely listened to for entertainment purposes, especially in rural areas, but it is vitally important for emergency services in times of trouble or natural disaster,” the letter says. “Removing AM capability from future vehicles could jeopardize the safety and livelihood of millions of your customers.”