Broadcasters from small towns to big cities are heralding Ford’s decision to keep AM radio in its vehicles as an important victory for listeners, public safety and the long term viability of the legacy band. While Ford CEO Jim Farley’s reversal of an earlier decision to exclude AM is an important step from an automotive leader, broadcasters say more work still needs to done to ensure AM radio remains a dashboard fixture in all vehicles.
“This is great news for our AM members, and great news for drivers that rely on AM for news, entertainment, and emergency alerting and information,” said Jordan Walton, head of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association and a member of the Dashboard Subcommittee within the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations. “It shows that OEMs have the ability to rethink their decision and act quickly even with models currently on the road or nearing production. That could give AM fans looking to buy new vehicles many more options if other manufacturers were to come to the same decision to bring back AM.”
In a statement, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters said the specter of AM radio disappearing from car dashboards “moved our industry to rally the support of Congress, the FCC and FEMA/Homeland Security to acknowledge that AM radio is essential in an emergency.” The trade group also pointed out AM radio’s vital role in serving Asian, Spanish-language, African American, Native American, and other underserved communities.
Because AM stations typically can be purchased for significantly lower prices than FMs, they often serve as the entry point for broadcast ownership for many Black entrepreneurs, says Jim Winston, President and CEO of the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters. “As a result, in many communities, the only Black owned station is an AM. That station then serves as an important voice for that community.
“AM radio is experiencing all of the competitive pressures that all traditional media is experiencing,” Winston added. “Adding the loss of a position in new vehicles would have added additional negative pressure on AM stations.”
Rural Communities And Big Cities
In rural America, where cellular or broadband access is not always reliable, the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) says the big reach of AM radio is critical for public safety and for keeping communities informed. “Our current and dedicated listenership still relies heavily on AM radio, on the dials in their homes, in their barns and their tractors, in their shops and, most importantly, in their vehicles,” said Joe Gill, the 2023 NAFB President and a farm broadcaster at Crystal Media Group KASM Albany, MN (1150).
In radio’s largest market, Red Apple Media CEO John Catsimatidis said he was “thrilled that Ford executives came to their senses about the importance of AM radio. “This episode in radio’s history has shined a light on the vital role of AM radio in the lives of listeners across the country,” added Catsimatidis, who corralled former Vice President Mike Pence to voice a “Save AM Radio” PSA for WABC New York (770) and took out a full-page ad in the New York Post to alert listeners to the dangers of losing AM radio in cars and trucks.
The sentiment among broadcasters surveyed by Inside Radio is that Ford’s reversal is the first step in the right direction. The hope is other automakers that decided to exclude AM from their fleets will now rethink their decision. “The OEMs certainly make their design independent of each other,” said Ben Downs, owner/GM of Bryan Broadcasting. “But Americans don’t need to be needlessly put a risk with every new model year.”
More Work To Do
While there is a business reason for broadcasters wanting to preserve AM radio in vehicles, Walton says it’s more than that. “Being that local resource for not only emergency alerts, but the critical information that comes after is what we’ve hung our collective hats on for decades,” he said.
While existential threat to AM radio rallied the industry, the need remains for broadcasters to advocate for passage of the proposed AM for Every Vehicle Act, which would require carmakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in new vehicles at no additional charge. “Our safety is important today and will still be important when the 2025 models come out,” Downs said. Winston pledged that NABOB will continue to spread the message to lawmakers and automakers “on the importance of AM radio as a source of news, entertainment, culture, and emergency communications for the American people.”
Added Walton, “Our work certainly isn’t done. We’ll continue to seek co-sponsors of the AM in Every Vehicle Act and push for that to move through Congress.”