NRB Members Highlight the Vital Role of AM Radio in Serving Listeners Across America

NRB | May 2, 2024 | Industry News

AM radio attracts an estimated 80 million listeners each month, including a large share of listeners who tune in to the AM dial to be encouraged by faithful Christian broadcasters and media ministries.

Americans especially depend on AM radio in times of emergency as the most resilient communication technology when cell towers and power lines are impacted by natural disasters. With some automakers planning to exclude AM radio from new electric vehicles, House and Senate lawmakers are currently contemplating proposals to require inclusion of AM radio receivers in all new vehicles made or imported into the United States.

The “AM For Every Vehicle Act” just reached a Senate supermajority with 60 cosponsors, and a key House subcommittee held a legislative hearing on the proposal just this week.

“AM radio fosters a sense of local identity, connecting people through regional programming that reflects the unique perspectives and traditions of their communities,” said House Energy & Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in opening remarks.

“It’s closer to the people, telling the stories and sharing the perspectives that the national news doesn’t cover and sometimes ignores, and it plays a crucial role in ensuring local government accountability,” Rodgers added.

NRB members can attest firsthand to the positive role AM radio plays in the lives of their listeners and how AM serves their audience in times of crisis.

“AM radio provides unlimited free access to vital information, inspiration, and cultural enrichment to our listeners every day,” said Rich Bott, Chairman & CEO of Bott Radio Network, which holds 11 AM stations. “In particular, our listeners depend on AM radio for spiritual refreshment and encouragement to face life’s challenges with hope and assurance with faith in God.”

The decline of AM radio in cars could pose a safety risk in parts of the United States where complicated geographical terrain limits access to broadband, cell service, and even FM radio.

Bott pointed out that FM signals are limited to line-of-sight propagation, meaning its radio waves can only transmit and receive signals when two stations are facing one another with no obstacles between them. On the other hand, AM signals are transmitted as ground waves that propagate over several hundred miles along the earth’s horizon.

“With AM radio, we reach into areas that might not have reliable internet,” said Brett Larson, General Manager at Crawford Media, which currently owns and operates 14 AM stations.

“The majority of our listeners receive our programming by AM radio,” said Bill Blount, President of Blount Communications Group. “Our stations do have FM translators. However, our AM station signals are much more powerful than the FM translators, which only cover a portion of the AM coverages.”

Having locally experienced the importance of AM in times of emergency, Larson described AM as both “a community necessity” and “place of refuge and information in emergencies.”

“Just last weekend, as tornadoes roared through Oklahoma and Kansas, our Bott Radio Network AM Radio stations broadcast life-saving weather alert information to listeners at home and on the road in their cars,” Bott said.

Eben Fowler, Vice President of Operations at Bott Radio Network, said that AM radio provides “battle-hardened facilities,” equipped to operate under conditions when other infrastructure, such as the cell phone network, are non-functional.

“To remove the ability for those in cars to hear these vital communication links could potentially put the public at risk,” said Fowler.

Larson pointed out that AM radio is resilient against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks or other viruses which could shut down phones and internet, making AM critical in times of emergency. Furthermore, since AM is an analog system, it could be kept alive on generators.

Removing AM radio from the auto dash would have a tremendous negative impact on their audience reach, Larson shared.

“Radio is ubiquitous with driving and the automobile,” Larson said. “Removing it effectively kills AM radio, its influence, its jobs, its information function, and its valuable connectivity to the community. AM is local.”

“Our listeners rely on AM,” Blount concurred.

AM is a powerful tool for both public safety and ministering to the deeper spiritual needs of the community. Larson noted that Christian broadcasters use AM to broadcast biblical sermons and Christian teaching that is less common on the FM band.

“There is a national security interest in keeping [AM] alive and healthy,” Larson said. “That is just one aspect, let alone the ability of AM to build community, which is so important, yet rare, in today’s world.”

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