Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin Helping Save AM Radio In New Car Models

A man who owns property in Madison but lives in Chicago stopped by to chat this week as is his custom over the years, but in minutes had stopped our back-and-forth saying, “Before I forget, have you heard about the problems with AM radio in new cars?”

“I was listening to WIND, and they told listeners to contact their elected officials and urge them to stop car manufacturers from no longer placing AM radio units into new cars off the assembly lines.”

My lifetime love of radio and broadcasting came to the fore as I replied that WIND was the place where Eddie Schwartz, ‘Chicago Ed’ as he was known to listeners first became a household name. As a teenager in central Wisconsin, Chicago radio provided several stations that alerted me about how broadcasters could sound and make their mark over the airwaves.  As I told my friend while we sat outside in the spring sunshine, that was all thanks to AM radio, which was always heard in our home, and also the car as the family traveled about the roads.

So yes, I was aware of the headlines being made about some manufacturers no longer placing AM radio into new car models, claiming their electric vehicles cause interference from the motors that result in annoying buzzing noises and faded signals.  While I am a strong supporter of EV technology, I also know that NASA figured out to make communications work through issues of space flight to the moon.  I strongly suspect that keen minds could brainstorm a remedy so AM radio could be heard in EV cars, too.

Over the months of following this issue, I have noted the strong desire coming from Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey who is pressing his colleagues in a bipartisan fashion to pass a bill requiring all new vehicles to include AM radio at no additional charge. Among the supporters calling for passage of the measure is Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin. Some car makers such as BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo have already eliminated AM radio from their vehicles, but under the bill would be required to place units at no charge into the car upon the request from the owner. 

The rationale for AM radio in automobiles was perhaps best summed up with the words from New Jersey Congressman Josh Gottheimer, who has introduced a House bill.

The importance of AM radio during large-scale emergencies cannot be underestimated, and it has, without a doubt and without interruption, saved lives and kept our communities informed. When the cell phone runs out, the internet gets cut off, or the television doesn’t work because of no electricity or power to your house, you can still turn on your AM radio. I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan AM for Every Vehicle Act in the House to ensure that all auto manufacturers include AM radio in their vehicles to protect public safety.

As a former radio broadcaster, I especially liked the words from Senator Baldwin. She hit on a most valued aspect of AM, that being the connection between listeners and the local community. While emergency news and information are vital ways for AM broadcasts to reach those who need to know of events so as to take the appropriate actions, it is that strong sense of community cohesion that I can speak to as a solid foundation from each broadcast day.

Wisconsinites, particularly those living in our rural and farming communities, rely on AM radio in emergencies, to provide them with their high-quality local news, and to lift up the voices of local businesses, organizations, and people. I am proud to work with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to go to bat for the Americans who want and need AM radio to do their jobs, stay safe, and support their local communities.

When the local Jaycees wanted to raise money and encourage new members to join they took over the station for a broadcast day as I worked the board. When a local grocery store had a grand opening the AM live broadcast for several hours connected a business with customers. And when a local child had cancer a radio telethon was provided to aid the family. Such programming serves local people and must not be marginalized by large automakers.

My interest in the topic is not new. A decade ago I called attention to interference with AM broadcasts and used a New York Times story to make the point.

Ajit Pai, the lone Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, is on a personal if quixotic quest to save AM. After a little more than a year in the job, he is urging the F.C.C. to undertake an overhaul of AM radio, which he calls “the audible core of our national culture.” He sees AM — largely the realm of local news, sports, conservative talk and religious broadcasters — as vital in emergencies and in rural areas.       

“AM radio is localism, it is community,” Mr. Pai, 40, said in an interview.       

AM’s longer wavelength means it can be heard at far greater distances and so in crises, he said, “AM radio is always going to be there.” As an example, he cited Fort Yukon, Alaska, where the AM station KZPA broadcasts inquiries about missing hunters and transmits flood alerts during the annual spring ice breakup.       

“When the power goes out, when you can’t get a good cell signal, when the Internet goes down, people turn to battery-powered AM radios to get the information they need,” Mr. Pai said.       

He admits to feelings of nostalgia. As the son of Indian immigrants growing up in small-town Parsons, Kan., he listened to his high school basketball team win a 1987 championship, he said. “I sat in my bedroom with my radio tuned into KLKC 1540,” he recalled. On boyhood family road trips across the the wide Kansas plains, he said, AM radio “was a constant companion.”

I feel compelled to conclude this post with how it felt to be one of those voices that folks turned to on their AM dial.

While I was working at WDOR, a small AM/FM station in Door County, we may not have been cutting edge, but we were local.  Local neighborhood disc-jockeys with the current weather and local fishing conditions, high school sports reports, and even the local obituaries were read on certain long-form newscasts.  No one pretended to be more than what we were. We were happy to work out of a small studio that was too hot in the summer, and too chilly in the winter, but we knew our audience.  Heck, we lived in the community, cared for our friends, and shared many commonalities.  As such we served the community through our daily broadcasting.

I know AM matters to a large swath of radio listeners in their cars. I suspect many of my readers are those listeners. As such, I ask that you contact your senators along with your house member and urge them to support AM radio being required in all new car models.

Thanks.

Federal Government Must Press Car Companies To Keep AM Radio In Dashboards

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. 

97th Birthday Of Grand Ole Opry, America’s Longest-Running Radio Show

The Grand Ole Opry celebrates its 97th birthday on October 8th, (tonight).

When I was a child on many a Saturday night the radio that always rested on the wooden buffet in the dining room would not only be turned on but equally importantly physically turned in such a fashion to best be able to hear WSM radio. The Grand Ole Opry was best able to be received in the cold months in our Hancock, Wisconsin home–as anyone who understands radio signals knows. It was always getting the radio in just the right location and also using the cord placement, that worked as an antenna, which allowed the nation’s longest-running radio show to fill our home with music and laughter.

I have been pleased to post many times about the music and the stars who have played such an important part in our country and also in my life. I have commented on their triumphs and felt sadness as they left us for the biggest stage of all. I have recalled the joys of attending the Opry and also being able to see some of those same ones perform in other venues where they were always content to let anyone who wanted to get an autograph or picture to do so. After all, as I was to learn from watching Porter Wagoner, Little Jimmy Dickens, or Charlie Louvin among others, the show was not really over until everyone had a personal memory to take home. They simply do not make entertainers like that anymore. My guitar attests to the truth of that statement with many signatures.

There is a richness that I carry with me from having had Saturday nights with the often scratchy signal from Nashville coming over the radio back home. Or telling ‘Whisperin’ Bill Anderson after a show, how as a kid, I used to impersonate him by standing on our picnic table in the backyard and pretending the garden hose was the microphone. Then came puberty and my country music career ended. I still see Bill laughing at that comment.

Many memories and thoughts will flood Americans around the nation as we celebrate this slice of Americana tonight when the big red curtain goes up at the Opry House. When trying to pick one song that sums up the mood and magic of the Opry over the decades I would opt for one of my favorite entertainers and singers who stood on the famed wooden circle. Not only would Roy Acuff, “The King Of Country Music” get people to tap their feet to the music but during the commercial breaks he would do tricks for the audience at the Opry House with his fiddle bow balanced on his nose or with his famed yo-yo tricks. He felt being an entertainer meant when one is on the stage they have a role to play. He played his part at the Opry with perfection for decades.

So Happy Birthday Grand Ole Opry! I add this audio of Roy and Minnie Pearl for the feel of the radio show. Truly awesome.

WINK Radio Back In Fort Meyers Studio

Radio broadcasters, the local everyday folks who live and care about the community and share in both smiles and heartaches are in our hearts and back on the radio broadcasting from their studio. Thanks for what you all do at WINK.

From CNN…“Southwest Florida news station WINK headed back late Monday afternoon to its Fort Myers studios after having spent days broadcasting from a makeshift studio setup at its transmitter site. (Photo above.) The station had been forced to take extraordinary measures to stay on the air after storm surge from Ian coursed through its offices last week, damaging much of the outlet’s equipment and forcing staffers to temporarily move to that remote location. WINK’s senior EP Lenny Smith, however, shared the update that employees had returned. “I left my headset in the [WINK] control room when [Ian’s] storm surge started flooding our building,” Smith tweeted. “Five days later, I’m putting it back on.””

Doty Land Podcast: Memories Of Trans American School Of Broadcasting, 41 Years Later

With fondness and laughter Bruce Miller, George Manesis, and Gregory Humphrey trek back 41 years to reminisce about the Wausau, Wisconsin broadcasting school.  From how these young men saw themselves at the time, to how radio impacts their lives today, this podcast episode surely mirrors the hundreds of graduates over the years.  From the school owner, Ray Szmanda, to the iconic Scott Street Pub these three guys regale memories that will transport all those who once harbored ‘radio fever’ to a place of youthful nostalgia.  An episode that has a professional touch,  a human connection. Darius Rucker, The Knack, and Connie Smith add the melody.

George Manesis, Bruce Miller, Gregory Humphrey seated.
Gregory, Bruce, and George coming up to the third-floor studio.

Trans American Broadcasting Reunion On Madison Isthmus, 40 Years of Friendship

The annual Trans American weekend reunion was held on the Madison Isthmus. Granted, this is not the largest reunion in the state, but since we are not aware of any other broadcasting students from Wausau or former on-air talent connecting in this way we are proud to post some pics. Every third weekend in September our gathering coincides with a neighborhood festival and a small parade that passes in front of our home on Sunday. Saturday afternoon we gathered on the lawn overlooking Lake Monona, with dinner that followed. A 30-minute ‘in the studio’ podcast of our thoughts and recollections will be posted here in about a week. For now, Bruce Miller is in white, George Manesis is in black, and Gregory Humphrey is in yellow. What is most certain is that radio management changes and announcers come and go, but friendship remains. These guys have been a part of my life for 40 years. From vacations together, to weddings, to laughs, and at times tears we have been a part of each other’s lives. And it all started because we had an interest in radio.

Penny Mustard Furnishings’ Ads Harken To What Is Best About Radio

I very much enjoy the radio, with WGN (AM 720) in Chicago being the home spot on the dial for at least 40 years. While there have been many wonderful personalities over the years who were invited into my home or car such as Paul Harvey, Orrin Samuelson, Steve and Johnnie, and the “Girlfriends” as they made me think, laugh, or cry there have also been radio ads that linger.  Not as brain worms because they are so awful there is no way to remove them but rather because they are perfectly done, year after year after year.  Well-crafted ads that remain long after the radio is turned off due to the way they play to the strengths of the medium which benefits advertisers and listeners, alike.

The Huth Boys growing up.

Penny Mustard Furnishings radio ads are ones that I never tire of hearing, and with their newest freshly opened store located in Madison, more people will get the chance to know what I mean. The business is located in the former Ganser Company and Pier 1 Imports along the Beltline. 

The ads feature folksy humor and down-home values at times about family and the importance of being a good person.  I have, over the years, much enjoyed their ads on special days like Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day.  While the ads are clearly aimed to sell home furnishings, they also underscore what radio is best at doing.  Creating images in one’s mind and being a companion either while home chores are underway, or a car tip is in progress.  No rudeness or bombast or trash talk—just sharply written and genuinely presented radio ads that do not seek to insult but to make for a smile among listeners and, hey, let’s check out that business for our next home needs. As a former radio broadcaster, I value their style of radio ads.

I constantly applaud those who respect radio listeners and know ad buys connect best when businesses know the importance of being invited, just like one would a person at the front door, into the home. Penny Mustard Furnishings is such a business, and while I have no stake in the company I do thank them for having high standards for their ads and public relations. The type of folks it would be a pleasure to chat with over a cup of coffee.

My New Doty Land Podcast: Elvis, Thunderstorms, Dan Rather, And Local Radio

Fond memories of Gregory Humphrey’s first day on WDOR radio with Elvis’ music, recollections of Dan Rather one Sunday morning on a Texas radio station, and a severe thunderstorm in Sturgeon Bay when a Brewer baseball game is knocked off the air as callers light up the phone lines!  Funny memories with another Doty Land professional-sounding podcast.

Doty Land is not the biggest or the best podcast, but it is mine and it makes for lots of smiles and hours well-spent on the Madison isthmus.