June is shaping up as a potentially pivotal month for the future of AM radio in cars and trucks. On Tuesday in Washington, a Congressional subcommittee will host an educational hearing on the issue, which has galvanized broadcasters across the country. And next week, state broadcasters associations will descend on Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of the AM For Every Vehicle Act.
Set for June 13-14, the lobbying blitz will start with a conference program hosted by the state broadcasters associations and the National Association of Broadcasters at NAB headquarters. The event aims to “prepare broadcasters to speak to lawmakers on a critical issue facing the radio industry, keeping AM radio in vehicles,” NAB spokesman Alex Siciliano told Inside Radio. The conference will feature broadcast industry leaders, legislative advocates, and industry experts.
Following the program at NAB’s recently opened state-of-the-art building at 1 M Street, SE, attendees will make the short trip to Capitol Hill offices to meet with policymakers and advocate for their support.
“As you know, we have great momentum on this issue and we appreciate Ford’s recent decision to reverse course and keep AM radio in cars,” Siciliano says. “We plan to keep this issue front and center until Congress acts on the AM Radio For Every Vehicle Act.”
Helping set the stage in Washington for the lobbying effort is tomorrow’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee Hearing, titled “Listen Here: Why Americans Value AM Radio.” As of Friday, three witnesses were scheduled to appear: Jerry Chapman, President, of Woof Boom Radio, owner of a dozen stations in Ohio and Indiana, including three AM outlets; Lt. Colonel Christopher M. DeMaise, Homeland Security Branch Commander, New Jersey State Police; and Scott Schmidt, VP, Safety Policy, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that opposes the AM For Every Vehicle Act.
Among the questions the hearing hopes to answer: What are the public safety implications for removing AM radio receivers from vehicles? What impact will the removal of AM radios from cars have on the reach and accessibility of AM radio stations in local communities? And what technology is available that can address signal interference from EVs to the AM radio receivers?
“Communities across the country rely on AM radio services for local news, weather reports, and other critical information. It is also a key tool for our nation's emergency communications infrastructure, especially when other communication services are not available,” Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said when the hearing was announced in late May.
Ex-FEMA Director Chimes In
Meanwhile, former FEMA Administrator Matthew Brown has penned a letter to four of the most vocal cosponsors of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act. The letter calls out the trade groups that oppose the legislation, saying their reasoning is “grounded in a distorted narrative and based upon the false premise that other devices provide consumers services equivalent to AM radio in the event of natural or man-made disasters.”
Brown’s letter to Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Bruce Westerman (R-AR) cites examples of natural and man-made disasters occurring during his tenure as Under Secretary of Homeland Security and FEMA Administrator. Among them, the 9/11 attacks, historic western wildfire seasons, flooding in the Midwest, the historic 2004 Florida hurricane season and Hurricane Katrina.
During these and other catastrophic events, Brown says “AM radio was essential and used extensively by FEMA to convey a constant flow of information to the public. Those AM stations were literally our go-to during these crises. Reaching citizens in their automobiles was a critical part of FEMA’s response,” he adds.
Brown notes that this isn’t a matter of Congress looking to protect consumers by requiring costly new technologies to be adopted. Rather its an effort to prevent the auto industry from eliminating an existing compatibility that has been standard on vehicles for nearly a century. “AM radio is relied upon by tens of millions of Americans every day for local news, information, weather, traffic, sports and entertainment, and it remains essential to public safety when disaster strikes,” the letter states. “And often, when that disaster strikes, Americans are in their automobiles.”
Brown also reiterates that the success of the National Public Warning System hinges on the use of AM radio. And he notes that other automakers have decided to keep AM radio in their electric vehicles, making it “clear that AM radios will not impede the technological progress reflected by the movement to electric vehicles. This does not have to be a zero-sum game,” the letter continues. “Instead, retention of AM radio receivers in electric vehicles and all vehicles is a win-win for protecting public safety as manufacturers and others transition to electric vehicles.”