Chip shortages, parts availability, and general production woes have led to the strange decontenting of feature-rich modern cars. Most of the time, it's the unplanned omission of advanced driver's assistance tech, heated seats, or other trinkets. But there is a genuine threat that AM radio won’t be included in cars for much longer. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts is trying to stop that from happening.
AM radio is a staple of long-distance mass communication in the U.S. It hosts countless news shows, talk shows, music channels, and even the National Weather Service forecast. Most importantly, it’s an incredibly effective vector for emergency information for local and state governments. It gained popularity in the ‘20s and has maintained an impermeable listener base, even with FM radio and the internet competing against it.
In an interview with Carscoops, Senator Markey said, “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 90% of Americans ages 12 and older—totaling hundreds of millions of people—listened to AM or FM radio each week, higher than the percentage that watch television (56%) or own a computer (77%).” This represents a sizeable chunk of Americans that use AM regularly and depend on it for their morning commutes.
Senator Markey’s main argument for keeping AM radio is that it's an indispensable tool for keeping the public informed during disasters. AM radio isn’t just available for cars; anyone with a cheap hand radio can tune in. But car listenership represents the most significant portion of the AM radio audience.
For the automakers, it’s troublesome to implement AM radio in EVs. Ford spokesperson Emma Bergg says that the frequencies in AM radio “tend to be directly affected by the electromagnetic noise in EV propulsion systems” and that it takes “extra investment” to make AM work in an EV. The Ford F-150 Lightning omits AM radio.
Whether this will evolve into something bigger involving legislation is yet to be seen. For now, Senator Markey is tracking the automakers that intend to remove AM, have removed it, and plan to implement free digital broadcast radio in its cars.
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