The future of AM radio, an American institution that has been broadcasting for nearly a century, is in jeopardy as electric cars begin to dominate the market.
Some carmakers, such as Tesla, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen, have already removed AM radios from their electric vehicles, citing technical difficulties caused by electromagnetic interference from the electric motors. Others, such as Ford and Mazda, are planning to follow suit.
This has sparked outrage among some conservative radio hosts and politicians, who claim that this is a deliberate attempt to silence talk radio, which is mostly rightwing and popular on AM. They argue that AM radio is a vital source of information and opinion for millions of Americans, especially in rural areas and during emergencies.
“Whether they’re doing this intentionally or not, the consequence will be … an all-out attack on AM radio,” said Charlie Kirk, radio host and founder of Turning Point USA.
“There’s a reason big car companies were open to taking down AM radio … let’s be clear: big business doesn’t like things that are overwhelmingly conservative,” said Ted Cruz, Texas senator.
But AM radio is not only about politics. It also provides essential services and information to many communities, such as weather reports, traffic updates, sports scores and local news. It is the oldest commercial radio technology in the US, and it has survived many challenges and changes over the decades.
“AM radio is a lifeline for millions of Americans who rely on its emergency alerts and instructions during natural disasters,” said Ed Markey, Massachusetts senator.
Some experts say that the reception problems can be solved with engineering solutions, such as shielding cables, filters and careful placement of the electrical components in the vehicle. But such changes require money and effort, and it may not be worth the cost for carmakers who see little demand for AM radio among their customers.
“It’s a killer for us because most of our listening audience is in the morning drive and afternoon drive, when people are going to work and coming from work — and if we’re not there in their car, we’re nonexistent,” said Ron January, operations manager at WATV-AM.
The fate of AM radio may depend on whether lawmakers intervene to protect it. A bill called the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act of 2023 has been introduced in Congress to require carmakers to install AM radios in new cars. The bill has bipartisan support but faces opposition from some industry groups.
As electric cars become more popular and affordable, AM radio may face an existential crisis. Will it adapt or fade away? The answer may have profound implications for the future of media and democracy in America.
-New electric cars won’t have AM radio. Rightwingers claim political sabotage, The Guardian, Wed 21 Jun 2023
-Why Electric Cars Are Getting Rid of AM Radio, U.S. News, Thu 24 Mar 2023
-In a Future Filled With Electric Cars, AM Radio May Be Left Behind, The New York Times, Sat 10 Dec 2022
-AM Radio in New Cars: Here’s Why Everyone Is Freaking Out, MotorTrend, Tue 24 May 2023