In Washington, Attention Turns to AM Radio in Electric Vehicles

NRB | March 23, 2023 | Advocacy News

From truckers hitting the road before sunrise, to professionals driving into work, to parents shuttling their children to school and activities, broadcast radio has long had a home in America’s cars.

In fact, for over a century, radio has held a special place in the hearts of Americans, providing free, accessible entertainment and information to millions. Day-to-day, AM radio is where listeners tune in to familiar, staple formats like news, talk, and sports. In times of disaster, AM radio proves reliable in delivering crucial emergency messages. NRB has long been a staunch supporter of AM radio, anticipating and responding to challenges in the business and regulatory environment.

The next challenge: a move to eliminate AM radio capabilities in new electric vehiclesAutomakers claim that the higher levels of electromagnetic interference in electric vehicles causes disruption that leads to static and high-frequency noise, and some have opted to remove the AM radio altogether to avoid this potential annoyance to customers. There are workarounds, however: by using technology such as shielding cables or filters, this problem could be easily resolved.

The NAB explains:

“Automakers in the U.S. and around the world have taken steps to combat interference on the AM dial in electric vehicles without sacrificing vehicle performance, including utilizing a simple software upgrade that reduces noise and interference. There are also nascent technologies that deliver clearer, more reliable signals free of interference while also enabling broadcasters to offer additional content channels for listeners. Broadcasters are committed to providing a more dynamic, uniform listening experience that takes full advantage of infotainment displays in modern vehicles.”

Despite the fact that 47 million Americans listen to AM radio and 90 percent of auto buyers think broadcast radio should be standard in every vehicle, automakers such as Ford and Tesla have made the alarming move to remove AM radio from their latest electric vehicle models. This move has been met with opposition by broadcasters and emergency management professionals alike.

The removal of AM radio poses a significant threat to federal authorities’ ability to respond to natural disasters. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, seven former FEMA heads warned that “Because of the great distances that its signal carries, and due to its resilience during even the worst natural disasters, the success of the National Public Warning System hinges on the use of AM radio. However, should EV makers continue removing AM radios from their vehicles, this vital public safety system will no longer function as intended.”

FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington echoed their sentiment in a statement and argued that  “The public safety community and the American public rely on AM radio. Auto manufacturers now, and increasingly in the future will, rely on spectrum. Care should be taken to weigh the velocity of innovations against the stability of institutions.”

Congressional leaders have also shown concern that this move will pose “a significant communication problem during emergencies,” as Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) urged twenty electric vehicle manufacturers to reconsider their move and maintain the use of AM radio in their vehicles. In responding to Markey, automakers differed wildly, with some car makers maintaining their decision to remove AM capabilities, others pledging to keep AM radio in the dash for now, and one—Kia Corp.— writing, “We are not aware of issues with electromagnetic interference with AM radio signals from our EVs.”

More than just the loss of life-saving emergency messaging capabilities, the loss of AM radio in cars is a serious blow to the millions of Americans who have had a life-long relationship with broadcast radio. As the NAB notes, “AM radio has transported millions of listeners to the front lines of history for more than a century. Local AM stations have also been the source of entertainment and connection to our communities, providing pioneering sitcoms and serials, religious services, presidential addresses, talk shows and ballgames.” America does not want to lose their valued source of entertainment and information that they have relied upon for their whole lives. Simington noted this relationship in defending the trusted service:

“While many in rural communities depend upon AM radio for information about emergencies, particularly alerts about weather, AM radio is important for more than just emergency information and alerting. AM radio informs and entertains tens of millions of listeners. Broadcasters spend decades developing relationships with the local communities that they serve, and the trust engendered by those relationships pays dividends back through community-informed reporting. And, just like emergency alerting, an informed and engaged citizenry serves as an essential foundation for public safety.”

Local radio plays an essential role in keeping the community connected and informed, and the AM format is still a staple for radio listeners,” said NRB President & CEO Troy A. Miller. It’s also time-tested and resilient in times of emergency. Ensuring compatibility between AM radio and new electric vehicles is a worthy investment in public safety.

Counting 123 AM stations as NRB members, plus hundreds more AM stations affiliated with NRB member organizations, NRB is a historic champion of AM radio and will continue to monitor and advocate on this issue.

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