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Senate Committee Advances Bill That Would Require AM Radio In Vehicle Dashboards.

With near-unanimous bipartisan support, a bill that would help ensure AM radio remains in vehicle dashboards is moving quickly in Congress. The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday advanced the proposed AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act (S. 1669) with only Michigan Democrat Gary Peters voting against the proposal. “AM radio is a central source of local news, weather and emergency information, and this is important legislation to make sure that it remains a part of what consumers have access to,” Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said during the Committee vote. Cantwell, along with three other lawmakers, has in recent days become a cosponsor to the bill.

The bill now goes onto the full Senate for consideration, something that will not happen until lawmakers return from their month-long August recess. If passed, the proposed AM Radio for Every Vehicle would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a rule that requires automakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate or additional payment, fee, or surcharge. The Government Accountability Office would also be required to study whether alternative communication systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of AM broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergencies.

Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), who first brought the issue to the attention of Congress and many in radio last December when he wrote to carmakers asking them to detail their plans for AM radio in electric vehicles, said the bill is not about favoring one industry over another. Instead, he said is about making sure safety technology is close at hand as emergency alerts become more pressing as climate change impacts the weather.

“Emergency management officers say that the removal of AM radio from vehicles poses a distinct threat to public safety,” Markey said during Thursday’s vote, noting he also believes that the shift to electric cars is the right thing to do to ensure a cleaner, greener future – but that those cars should also include access to alerts. “Every driver and passenger deserve to have the same access to AM radio as their counterparts in gas-fired cars,” Markey said.

In a statement, the National Association of Broadcasters celebrated the vote. “This legislation will ensure that the tens of millions of AM radio listeners across the country retain access to local news, diverse community programming and emergency information,” NAB President Curtis LeGeyt said. “Moreover, this legislation enables AM radio’s continued role as the backbone of the nation’s Emergency Alert System.”

The bipartisan nature of the bill has been a welcome break in an evenly divided Congress. Markey’s Senate version of the bill has 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats as cosponsors. This week four more, including two from each party were added, including Democrats Cantwell and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Republicans Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Todd Young (R-IN).

Ranking Republican Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is also a cosponsor of the bill, has been among its most vocal advocates on Capitol Hill and has helped to bring several members of the GOP onboard.

“Unfortunately, several automakers have announced plans to take this important resource out of cars. That's a big mistake,” Cruz said Thursday. “AM radio plays a critical role in delivering emergency alerts. It's also a platform for talk radio, and many minority and ethnic focus stations, all of which are homes for alternative viewpoints and diverse audiences.”

A ’Gut Punch’ To Listeners

Faced with pressure from Washington and an uproar from the radio industry, Ford Motor Company reversed course in May and said that it will keep AM radio in its new vehicles. Executives said Ford’s electric vehicles will get an online software update to put AM back into the vehicles later this year. But other brands have yet to be convinced. Their responses to Markey reviewed by Inside Radio show that while General Motors, BMW, Mazda, Rivian, Volkswagen, and Volvo show some commitment to AM, others are sticking with plans to focus on FM and streaming and digital capabilities in their dashboards.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called that a “gut punch” to listeners and the more than 4,000 AM stations nationwide, including 1,500 that broadcast ag news to farmers and ranchers.

“I know from driving around my state so often it is AM radio where we hear the local high school scores, the news about flooding, and the news about tornadoes on the way,” she said. “This idea that with all every fancy add-on to cars that we just decided to tune out the availability of AM radio in a state like mine is just a total outrage.”

The House version of the bill also remains pending, with similar strong bipartisan support including 70 Republican cosponsors of the bill, with 68 Democrats also backing it. During a hearing on the bill in June, there was strong support for keeping AM radio in vehicles, although a few lawmakers expressed some concerns about putting a mandate on carmakers.

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