Lawmakers vs. Automakers Showdown Heats Up Over Removing AM Radio

AM radio warning
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AM radio warning
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Photo Credit: Matteo Contadini

Lawmakers and automakers are at odds over AM radio as the move to exclude the technology could impact emergency response for electric vehicle owners.

Tesla, Volvo, and BMW have already stopped providing AM tuners in some models of cars they produce. Last year, Ford said it would join these automakers in dropping AM radio tuners from its vehicles—but soon reversed course after talks with lawmakers. Congress is seeking to require automakers by law to include AM radio in their vehicles, calling it a “critical piece of the emergency communication network.”

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have spear-headed the Senate’s efforts to require AM radio tuners, while Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) have spear-headed the House effort, which has around 200 co-sponsors. Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) went so far as to ask the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require a warning for vehicles that don’t include AM radio tuners.

“Every time a dealership sells a vehicle without AM radio, customers need to be warned that they’re missing a key safety feature for emergencies,” Gottheimer said. There are more than 4,500 AM radio stations across the United States, with 600 of those broadcasting in a language other than English.

A Spring 2023 Nielsen survey estimates that AM radio reaches about 78 million Americans every month—but that figure is declining. That number was 107 million Americans in 2016, one of the earliest periods for Nielsen data.

FM radio audience surpassed AM radio in the ‘70s, but with satellite radio, podcasts, and streaming audio there’s less interest in AM radio as an entertainment option.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has more than 75 radio stations operating on the AM band that cover 90% oft he United States population. These stations include backup communications equipment to allow them to continue broadcasting a signal to the public in the event of a major emergency. Seven former FEMA administrators have urged Congress to seek assurances from automakers that AM radio would continue to be available in their vehicles.

Senator Ed Markey alleges that automakers see the move as a way to extract value from American families. “They see this as another profit center for them when the American driving public has seen it as a safety resource for them and their families,” Markey said.