The battle over the future of AM radio heated up this week as organizations representing the auto and technology industries told Congress that its plan to mandate this method of receiving radio waves is ill-conceived and will hinder progress.
AM radio has seen just about every other car entertainment option come and go—vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs—and it can preempt almost everything except play “I Spy,” but the time is coming to this old broadcast technology. It’s starting to get left behind as new models — many of which are electric vehicles — drive off into the sunset, streaming their audio instead of modulating its amplitude.
When we broke the news that AM wasn’t on the 2024 Ford Mustang, we noted that some elected officials in Congress weren’t comfortable with retiring this type of radio. Now some of them have gone a step further and introduced a bill—the “AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act”—that would require every new car to include an AM radio receiver as standard equipment at no extra cost to the buyer. in the car.
“I thought that if Elon Musk had enough money to buy Twitter and send rockets into space, he could include AM radio in his Teslas. Instead, Elon Musk and Tesla and other car manufacturers put the public safety and emergency response risk,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.), one of the law’s co-sponsors.
“As more and more Americans adopt electric vehicles, we must ensure they are equipped with AM radio. AM radio is—and will remain—an important communication channel for emergency alerts and for spreading news and other important information to residents in our district and communities across the country. I am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation that will ensure EVs continue to be equipped with this basic but critical capability,” said Rep. . Bob Menendez (DN.J.), another co-sponsor.
The proposed new law also found support from the Federal Communications Commission and the radio broadcasting industry.
But the industries responsible for the actual implementation of this requirement are not very keen. Yesterday, the Zero Emission Transportation Association, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the Consumer Technology Association, and TechNet sent a letter to the bill’s 11 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and the Senate to point out how wrong it is. .
While AM radio remains popular for local sports broadcasts and talk radio, the authors of the proposed legislation framed their action in terms of emergency alerts. That might have made sense in the days of Marconi and Bell, but we live in the 21st century where there is more than one way to broadcast alerts. Additionally, for a radio alert to work, it must be turned on and tuned to the correct wavelength.
As written in the letter from the trade groups, 97 percent of Americans have a cellphone, which is already designed to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts, and these alerts can be received even if the cellular network cannot send calls or others more data.
“Unlike radio alerts, it can also have an embedded hyperlink to guide the recipient to helpful information within seconds of receiving the alert; because 85% of Americans with a cell phone have a smartphone, the majority of people who receive an alert can take advantage of this benefit,” the letter pointed out.
Perhaps if this bill becomes law, its authors will follow up with a requirement for all pedestrians to also carry an AM radio at all times, if possible.