Recently the National Association of Broadcasters stated that surely “automakers do not want to alienate the nearly 48 million Americans who listen to AM radio each week.” If you have not been following this topic about car manufacturers and placement of radio sets in car dashboards—and admittingly there is a raft of headlines from the debt ceiling to the military needs for Ukraine that take precedence—it might seem an obscure and off-beat issue to be discussing. But it is an issue that connects with many across the nation and for very important reasons.
Many may not be aware of the fact that AM radio is very much the backbone of the nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS), and as such AM radio plays a critical role in informing Americans as well as keeping them safe when, and should, disaster strike. While images of national calamity come to mind with the mention of EAS, I can attest to the importance of AM radio in the lives of people week in and week out. A representative example of those 48 million in the nation impacted by AM radio would be ‘the Egg Harbor reporter’ who alerted me each snowstorm of the road conditions concerning a stretch of Northern Door County once the snow and sleet started to fall.
He was an articulate retired man who called the radio station often when I was on the air and since he lived close to a hill that was so troublesome during inclement weather gave me information that I then imparted to the radio listeners. AM radio is very much a valued and even at times critical lifeline to information during emergencies and natural disasters. Folks throughout Door and Kewaunee counties needed to know about storm-related information or news of detours around crash sites on highways or alerts about downed power lines in neighborhoods that needed to be avoided when walking or driving. The list goes on and on about today’s needs listeners have and the role AM radio still plays in communities across the nation.
So, it is alarming to learn of the response to a letter written by U.S. Senator Edward Markey to car companies asking them to maintain broadcast AM radio as a feature in electric vehicles and other future vehicles. Markey wrote in December to all the big automakers: Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, BMW, and Kia among them. He asked for a thorough accounting of where AM radio receivers stand in the view of automakers and to inform him of any plans to discontinue access to AM in new cars.
The auto industry response comes from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and appears to be a resounding non-endorsement of AM radio. In fact, the letter makes no mention of the industry’s intentions of keeping AM radio intact in the dashboard. It instead pointed to the many other ways that Americans now can receive emergency alerting information.
The importance of this matter was clearly demonstrated when seven former FEMA officials asked the federal government to help keep AM radios in electric vehicles. In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the group petitions the government to seek assurances from automakers to maintain AM radios in EVs, arguing that the band is vital to the federal National Public Warning System.
I can speak to this issue as a former broadcaster who understands the tight connections listeners have with a local radio station and the importance they placed on solid reporting and dissemination of alerts and updates concerning a wide array of issues. There is a bond radio announcers have with their communities and one that listeners rely on daily with the one behind the studio microphone. It is a really rather basic concept, something that even car executives should be able to grasp. Reliable communications via AM radio are something a very large segment of the citizenry desire to have access to in an emergency.