In a future filled with electric cars, AM radio could be left behind
For nearly 100 years, drivers have listened to AM radio, an American institution crackling with news, traffic, weather, sports and an eclectic variety of other programs.
But that dashboard staple could take the place of manual crank windows and car ashtrays as electric vehicles begin to take more hold of the U.S. market.
A growing number of electric models have ditched AM radio in what broadcasters are calling a worrying change that could spell trouble for stations and deprive drivers of a crucial source of information in an emergency.
Automakers claim that electric vehicles generate more electromagnetic interference than gas-powered cars, which can disrupt AM signal reception and cause static, noise, and high-frequency hum. (FM signals are more resistant to such interference.)
“Rather than frustrate customers with inferior reception and noise, the decision was made not to use vehicles equipped with eDrive technology,” BMW said in a statement, referring to the system that powers its electric vehicles.
Tesla, Audi, Porsche and Volvo have also removed AM radio from their electric vehicles, as has Volkswagen from its electric SUV, ID.4, according to the automakers and the National Association of Broadcasters. Ford said the 2023 F-150 Lightning, its popular electric pickup truck, will also drop AM radio.
Some experts say the reception issues aren’t insurmountable. EMI could be controlled with shielding cables, filters and careful placement of electrical components in the vehicle, said Pooja Nair, a communications systems engineer at entertainment technology company Xperi Inc., which owns the technology. HDRadio.
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But such changes take money and effort, and it’s unclear whether automakers are willing to spend more serving AM radio fans. The Drive, an automotive news site that reported on the trend, noted that AM radio has fallen out of favor in Europe, so automakers may see less need to retain it.
If more electric vehicles drop AM radio, some broadcasters say they could lose connection with their primary listeners.
“It’s a killer for us because most of our listening audience is on the morning commute and the afternoon commute, when people go to work and come back from work – and if we’re not not there in their car, we’re non-existent,” said Ron January, operations manager at WATV-AM, an adult contemporary station in Birmingham, Ala.
About 47 million Americans listen to AM radio, which is about 20% of the public who listen to radio, according to Nielsen Company, the media tracking firm. AM listeners tend to be older than other radio listeners (about a third are over 65), and the time they spend listening to AM has increased slightly over the past five years, reaching just more than two hours a day, Nielsen reported.
Even though some AM stations have translators that send duplicate broadcasts over FM, AM signals travel farther and reach more people. AM stations can also be cheaper to operate than FM stations, allowing some to offer programming focused on specific religious, cultural, or other communities.
Brian Winnekins, the owner of WRDN in Durand, Wis., which has seven hours of agriculture-related programming available weekdays on AM and FM, said he urges listeners to tell builders automobiles not to abandon AM, noting that it can reach farmers in remote areas.
“If you can drive a vehicle on its own,” Winnekins said, referring to driver assistance systems in Teslas and other vehicles, “you can make a decent radio receiver.”
Nola Daves Moses, director of distribution at Native Voice One, which distributes Native American radio programs, including some in Native languages, said she hopes more Americans will switch to electric vehicles.
But “if the radio disappears from cars, it would be really devastating,” she said. “Is this a first step? Is FM next? »
In a letter to 20 automakers released Dec. 1, Sen. Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, called on them to keep AM radio in electric vehicles, describing it as a public safety issue.
“Despite innovations such as the smartphone and social media, AM/FM radio remains the most reliable, free and accessible communication mechanism for public officials to communicate with the public in an emergency,” wrote Mr. Markey. “As a result, any phase-out of AM radio could pose a significant communication problem in an emergency.”
Many AM broadcasters claim that their stations’ news bulletins are the fastest way for drivers to learn about tornadoes, flash floods, and other severe weather. Diane Newman, operations and brand manager at WWL in New Orleans, said that during Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, the station relayed vital information about rescue and recovery efforts.
“There was no Wi-Fi; there were no phone connections,” Ms Newman said, adding: “You take the AM radios out of the cars and you take away a lifeline, a connection when the community needs you most.
Automakers noted that drivers can still stream AM radio on apps, and not all EVs have ditched it. Hyundai, which makes electric vehicles, said in a statement it has no plans to phase out AM radio. And some observers say the threat from electric vehicles may be overstated.
“The challenge to AM survival may have more to do with broader demographics than automobiles,” said Michael Stamm, a cultural historian at Michigan State University who studies media. “Do young people care about AD, in cars or otherwise?”
Not all young drivers have moved away from AM radio.
“AM is where you get the information,” said Alex Cardenas-Acosta, 34, a Saab driver who works at an auto repair shop in Union, NJ. Like many who drive gas-powered cars, he was unaware that some electric vehicles had crashed. AM radio. Mr. Cardenas-Acosta said he listens to the Mets on the transmission.
“I don’t think it needs to be removed,” he said. “If you want to find something serious, instead of all that bullshit they have on FM, you turn on AM.”
Outside a Tesla dealership in Springfield, NJ, several Tesla owners said they weren’t too bothered by the lack of AM radio. The company began phasing it out several years ago, prompting a headline in 2018 in The Wall Street Journal, “Your Tesla Can Go From Zero To 60 In 2.5 Seconds But Can’t Get The Radio AM”.
Brandon Utrera, 27, said he didn’t notice the Tesla Model Y he bought five days earlier didn’t have an AM radio. “The only time I really listen to AM radio is when the Yankees are on,” he said.
Mr Utrera said his parents listen to him more than he does, although he cannot remember the station. “It’s for old people,” he said.