Efforts by members of Congress to preserve AM radio’s place in automobiles have shifted up a gear. Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH), Greg Pence (R-IN) and 100 of their bipartisan House colleagues sent individual letters Monday to Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Tesla, Polestar, Rivian, GM and Mercedes-Benz urging them to maintain AM radio in all their vehicles.
The new round of letters from Capitol Hill is the next step in a campaign started by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) who previously wrote to a wider set of automakers asking a series of specific questions about their plans for AM radio in their vehicles. Monday’s letters addressed those that either responded that they would be removing AM or that didn’t answer whether they intend to keep AM in their newer model cars.
The letters from the lawmakers also pose a series of questions to the manufacturers regarding their actions on AM removal. And in a not so subtle reminder of how the federal government has come to their aid, it asks automakers to “provide all federal loan, grant and tax incentives your company has received in the last 15 years.”
“In the case of natural disasters – tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and other local emergencies – AM radio is a lifeline,” the letter reads, in part. “It provides early warning, up-to-the minute local information needed to survive when these disasters strike, and ongoing, lifesaving information in their aftermath when the danger is often the greatest.”
Citing info from FEMA, the letter notes that 75 radio stations, most of which operate on the AM band and cover at least 90% of the U.S. population, have been hardened with backup communications equipment and generators “that allow them to continue broadcasting information to the public during and after an emergency. Most importantly, radio is free to all Americans, not requiring a subscription or a broadband connection,” the letter adds.
The coordinated effort by a battalion of lawmakers comes as AM broadcasters face an existential crisis. Eight automakers say they have yanked AM radio out of the dashboard for some of their models, mostly in the fast-growing electric vehicle segment, due to a combination of technical hurdles, a belief that AM content can be accessed through streaming, and their conclusion that whatever content AM once had a lock on can now be found elsewhere. Ford is removing AM receivers from the dashboard of all of their consumer vehicles; gas, diesel, and electric.
“Removal in EVs is bad enough, but taking AM out of all vehicles is a disaster for AM broadcasters,” Ben Downs, owner/GM of Bryan Broadcasting told Inside Radio in an email.
BIA Advisory Services says that $2 billion of radio’s $11 billion in local OTA ad revenue in 2022 came from AM radio stations. The research firm says some of the country’s most lucrative radio stations are still on AM, mostly news and news/talk stations in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.
NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt issued a statement Monday thanking Latta, Pence and the 100 signatories to the latest letter. “These legislators understand the critical role that AM radio plays in disseminating vital information to the public, particularly in times of emergency,” LeGeyt said. “Tens of millions of Americans listen to AM radio each month for its local and diverse content and we applaud these lawmakers for their commitment to their constituents who depend on AM."