AM Radio Could Disappear From Cars Entirely: "Loss of American Culture"
Automakers are eliminating the option from newer models.
Summer is right around the corner, meaning it's primetime for driving with the windows down and listening to your favorite tunes. While many cars now come equipped with Bluetooth pairing, allowing you to play music directly from your cellphone, some of us still rely on the radio. But now, manufacturers are nixing AM radio from the latest models, meaning Americans will have to bid adieu to some of their favorite stations when they buy a new car. Read on to find out why AM radio is on the outs, and why some are calling it a "loss of American culture."
AM radio still has a large listening base.
For over 100 years, Americans have relied on AM radio. According to The Washington Post, it was where Franklin D. Roosevelt aired his fireside chats and where many radio disc jockeys (DJs) got their start. It was also the main hub for Top 40 music until the 1970s, when FM radio was introduced, and now, tech has continued to evolve with streaming stations.
Still, according to an April 2023 press release from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), 82 million Americans tune in to AM radio stations every month—a majority of which are older adults.
However, this number may start to fall, as automakers say that they're adapting with the changing times by doing away with AM radio.
Some automakers are doing away with AM radio in electric cars, but Ford is going a step further.
According to data collected from Ford's internet-connected cars, only 5 percent of listening is attributed to AM stations, prompting the automaker to nix the offering in all of its new models, the WaPo reported. Seven other automakers, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Tesla, Polestar, and Rivian, are also doing away with AM. But this is only for their electric vehicles, since the engines can disrupt the frequencies and introduce that pesky static sound.
Ford spokesman Alan Hall told the WaPo that many AM stations offer alternatives, airing online or on FM sister stations. But the outlet also noted that this isn't always the case, and as the AM listening base is older, there's also a question of accessibility.
"Radio is still the soundtrack of the American worker. It's what people listen to on the way to work," Pierre Bouvard, chief insights officer at Cumulus Media, told the WaPo, noting that Ford drivers, in particular, may be irked. "Ford owners are massive users of AM radio—1 out of 5 AM listeners are Ford owners, so Ford is missing something here."
Speaking with the WaPo, Michael Harrison, publisher of the radio industry journal Talker, went so far as to say, "This is a tone-deaf display of complete ignorance about what AM radio means to Americans. It's not the end of the world for radio, but it is the loss of an iconic piece of American culture."
There are major implications for public safety.
Activists from both sides of the political spectrum are contesting the potential elimination of AM radio from vehicles. Republicans say that this is limiting the reach of conservative radio talk shows. Democrats, on the other hand, say that it's the only lifeline for some people in the event of severe weather, and there are also stations that appeal to immigrant populations.
But across the board, NAB says that AM radio is a necessity. In the recent press release, the organization launched the "Depend on AM Radio" campaign, which stresses the importance of AM car radio for Americans.
The organization also highlighted the "public safety consequences" of eliminating AM radio from vehicles because it is "the backbone of the nation's Emergency Alert system," playing a key role in "disseminating timely, urgent information."
Some automakers are keeping AM radio for now.
While the news may seem dire, there's still some hope: Some automakers confirmed they have no plans to do away with AM radio in vehicles.
A total of 10 brands, namely Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Lucid, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stellantis, Subaru, and Toyota, won't cut off AM radio, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey told The Verge.
General Motors (GM)—which the WaPo notes is the "top-selling carmaker" in the U.S.—hasn't announced where it stands on the AM radio debate.