Top Takeaways from Latest AM Radio Hearing on Capitol Hill

NRB | May 3, 2024 | Advocacy, Advocacy News

On April 30, the NRB policy team joined other stakeholders in a small committee room in the Rayburn House Office Building to attend a highly-anticipated hearing hosted by the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce, titled “Preserving Americans’ Access to AM Radio.” 

“I applaud Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers for holding an important hearing today on preserving Americans’ access to AM radio,” stated NRB President & CEO Troy A. Miller in advance of the session. “I encourage Chair Rodgers to bring this important legislation to a markup and a vote following today’s hearing.”

Four expert witnesses were invited to testify: John Bozzella, President and CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Gary Shapiro, CEO of Consumer Technology Association, Melody Spann-Cooper, Chair and CEO of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, and Justin Ahasteen, Executive Director of Navajo Nation. 

Here are a few of NRB’s top takeaways. 

Lawmakers appreciate importance of religious broadcasting

Several members, including subcommittee chair Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), full committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) mentioned Christian and faith-based content as an important AM radio offering. 

NRB is the decisive voice of religious broadcasters in Washington and has supported the AM for Every Vehicle Act since day one, relaying the impact of religious broadcasting in hundreds of communications with lawmakers.

Industry groups dodge issue of “connected car” future

Industry representatives opposing the AM radio legislation were tight-lipped about the future of the auto dashboard. Asked by Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) about the revenue generated for auto manufacturers by apps and subscriptions in the dash, Bozzella said he could not give “an industry-wide answer” because monetization of the dash “is not our business model.” 

It’s no secret that the auto industry views monetization as a top driver of future profits. Various built-in features are now being unlocked for users on a subscription basis. (“Subscription-based access to vehicle features, like heated seats or remote-start key fobs, are the latest attempt to charge people for things their car already came with,” wrote The Verge in 2022.) Over-the-air upgrades and optimizations are available for purchase in many electric vehicles (EVs).

Industry opposition to the AM bill is not driven by concern about costs being passed on to the consumer, but rather by the inability to drive those dollars to the dashboard. “Automakers see subscriptions as a huge new source of income to be tapped, with GM alone hoping to make as much as $25 billion per year just off subscriptions by 2030,” Motor Trend reports, noting that some automakers have moved to cut popular technology like Apple CarPlay in order to reorient drivers to their own brand’s offerings. 

AM radio is a critical resource for remote communities 

Justin C. Ahasteen, executive director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office, testified that AM radio is a critical resource in remote and hard-to-reach areas such as the Navajo Nation, which covers three states and 27,000 square miles. The Navajo people, Ahasteen testified, rely on AM radio for regular news, communication, and emergency updates due to the scarcity of broadband, cell connectivity, and the lack of information available in the Navajo language.

AM radio delivers powerful social impact in urban centers

Melody Spann-Cooper, chairwoman and CEO of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, Chicago’s only Black and female-owned broadcasting company, shared about the impact of AM radio on various listener demographics, especially vulnerable groups. Some of these community supports have included caregiver seminars, a maternal mortality awareness campaign, a partnership with the treasurer’s office that returned over $300 million to Cook County taxpayers, and health and finance information for seniors. 

AM radio works just fine in witnesses’ own electric vehicles

During the hearing, Spann-Cooper and Bozzella revealed in their answers to lawmakers that they drive EVs with AM radio capabilities—and experience little to no issue with electromagnetic interference causing an unfavorable listening experience, as some automakers claim.

Read full witness testimonies and watch the hearing playback here. Read more about NRB’s commitment to preserving AM radio access here

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