For nearly a century, AM radio has been a staple of American automobiles. Within a few short years after Galvin Manufacturing Corporation introduced the first mass-market car radio in 1930, AM radio was providing millions of Americans with access to a wide variety of entertainment, news and content. Today, some 47 million Americans still tune into nearly 4,500 local radio stations across the country during the roughly one hour they spend each day in the car.
Americans listen to AM radio for everything from local news and traffic reports to talk radio and sports programming. They also tune in to receive regular weather updates and hear emergency announcements made by agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). AM radio is still one of the primary tools federal, state and local governments use to communicate with the public about weather-related emergencies.
This valuable emergency tool is in imminent danger of disappearing from motor vehicles. Increasingly, auto manufacturers are deciding to drop AM radio from electric vehicles (EVs) due to concerns of engine interference with AM radio. Unlike traditional gas vehicles, EVs are powered by a rechargeable battery and an electric motor. During operation, an EV’s electric motor can produce electromagnetic interference that causes static noise on AM transmissions.
While workarounds exist, such as installing filters, using protective shielding for high voltage cables and connectors and moving radio receivers farther away from EV components, most EV manufactures don’t want to make the necessary investment.
Instead, manufacturers argue the solution is to remove AM radio from new EV models since the technology is declining in popularity among younger Americans, who increasingly choose to obtain their information through other platforms. Manufacturers argue that consumers can still choose to listen to internet radio and collect information through various streaming services and Bluetooth-enabled apps.
For these reasons, many manufacturers have already chosen to remove AM radio from their EVs. BMW was the first to do so in 2004 with its i3 electric car. Since then, seven others have done the same, including Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, Volvo and, most recently, Ford, which decided to drop the feature from its 2024 F-15 Lighting pickup truck. There’s little reason to think this trend will slow down any time soon.
Consumers will pay the price for the elimination of this important service. Its removal leaves them with one fewer pathway to obtaining critical safety information. While alternatives exist, drivers can’t always count on them during weather-related emergencies. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina knocked out power and disrupted wireless phone service for thousands of Louisianians.
AM radio, on the other hand, works quite well during extreme weather events since it’s free to use and operates at low frequencies. These frequencies use larger wavelengths, which can travel over greater distances due to their ability to pass through solid objects. This feature makes AM radio the perfect medium for emergency broadcasting. With this in mind, seven former FEMA administrators recently sent a letter to automakers urging them to protect AM radio. They understand that AM radio remains a critical lifeline to millions of Americans, specifically those living in remote locations who don’t always have access to alternative sources of information. It provides a quick and easy way for them to stay informed and take appropriate steps to remain safe should the situation require it.
Notably, many alternatives to AM radio cost extra money. Digital streaming packages and Bluetooth smartphone apps increasingly charge consumers a monthly subscription fee. Other previously free services offered by auto manufacturers also come at a cost. Tesla owners must now purchase the company’s Premium Connectivity Package for access to any feature beyond navigation. This service costs $9.99 per month, or $99 per year, not including taxes. While some drivers may be willing to pay for exciting new features, cost shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving critical safety updates for those who aren’t.
For many Americans, AM radio remains the preferred option for obtaining news and information. According to a 2022 Pew Research Survey, 47 percent of U.S. adults get their news from radio stations. Terrestrial radio (both AM and FM) still reaches 93 percent of the U.S. adult population. Removing this option from millions of Americans would be a travesty, especially when it’s one of the last few remaining sources of free on-the-ground information.
While national legislation requiring manufacturers to keep AM radio in EVs would likely produce unintended consequences like higher costs for consumers, lawmakers should continue to draw attention to this important issue. Many Americans remain ignorant of the fact that AM radio is slowly being phased out of new EVs. It’s possible that if they were aware of the situation, these Americans would demand that automakers remedy it.
AM radio is too important a safety feature for manufacturers to simply discard. Americans deserve access to as many sources of information as possible — and that includes AM radio.