Congress Moves to Mandate AM Radio in New Autos: Let My People Modulate Their Amplitude

By Paul Riegler on 24 May 2023
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An AM-FM radio in a 1969 Oldsmobile 442

Remember AM radio?, that staticky radio band your parents listened to news radio to in the car?   Well, it’s not going away any time soon, you’ll be relieved to know.

If you’re listening to your iPhone in your car right now via Apple CarPlay or Bluetooth streaming, you probably didn’t know it was in danger, but a surprisingly high number of Americans – 82 million, to be exact, and a mostly older demographic, according to the National Association of Broadcasters – still tune in at least monthly.

AM radio has been present in autos for over 100 years.  After Chevrolet introduced a model with AM radio in 1922, people freaked out.  One state – Massachusetts – proposed legislation to ban listening to radio while the vehicle was in motion.

Opponents of car radios argued that they would distract drivers and cause accidents, that tuning them took a driver’s attention away from the road, and that music could lull a driver to sleep, arguments we hear today against texting while driving, which is far more dangerous.

In addition, AM radio has been steadfast in its presence while seeing almost every other in-vehicle entertainment option – phonograph records, eight-track tape players, cassettes, and CDs – come and go.  Some vehicles – in particular those from BMW and Mercedes-Benz – even came with weather-radio bands in the United States.

Republicans say that the removal of AM radio from new automobiles would limit the reach of conservative radio talk shows. Democrats, on the other hand, say that it’s the only lifeline for some people in the event of severe weather, ignoring the fact that the National Weather Service operates an emergency alert system that requires a specialized yet inexpensive radio set, in some cases powered by a cranked generator.

Ford recently announced plans to do away with AM radio in all vehicles, not just electric, while at least even other automakers – BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo among them – are removing AM radio from their electric vehicles due to static interference caused by the cars’ electric motors.  Some of those brands no longer include AM radio in their petrol-powered vehicles as well.

On Tuesday, Ford shifted into reverse and said it would keep AM.

“After speaking with policy leaders about the importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system, we’ve decided to include it on all 2024 Ford & Lincoln vehicles,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a prepared statement in social media.  “For any owners of Ford EVs without AM broadcast capability, we’ll offer a software update. Customers can currently listen to AM radio content in a variety of ways in our vehicles — including via streaming — and we will continue to innovate to deliver even better in-vehicle entertainment and emergency notification options in the future. Thanks to our product development and manufacturing teams for their quick response to make this change for our customers.”

Meanwhile, the fight over AM led Congress to step in.  

The “AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act,” with 11 sponsors, was introduced in recent days.

“I would think that if Elon Musk has enough money to buy Twitter and send rockets to space, he can afford to include AM radio in his Teslas. Instead, Elon Musk and Tesla and other car manufacturers are putting public safety and emergency response at risk,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a statement.

“As more and more Americans adopt electric vehicles, we must ensure that they are equipped with AM radio. AM radio is – and will remain – an essential communications channel for emergency alerts and for disseminating news and other important information to residents of our district and communities across our country. I am proud to co-lead this bipartisan legislation which would ensure that EVs continue to be equipped with this basic but critical capability,” said Rep. Bob Menendez, another co-sponsor, also in a statement.

While industry groups told Congress that a mandate is a bad idea and will hinder progress.

The proposed legislation has found support from the Federal Communications Commission and radio broadcasting industry.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)