AM Radio Losing Ground in the Dashboard

April 5, 2023
By Justin Sasso
CBA President & CEO

The industry is buzzing as we learn that several automotive manufacturers are removing AM radio receivers from their electric vehicles (EV) and future models of internal combustion engines (ICE). While BMW and Tesla began removing AM years ago, Ford is now taking a similar position on both their EV and ICE vehicles. GM has recently joined in with their decision to no longer offer Apple’s CarPlay and instead work exclusively with Google on future in-dash designs, potentially eliminating a radio receiver entirely.

The manufacturers planning the removal of AM from their vehicles provide disingenuous excuses, claiming that “AM is now on FM” and that there are apps to replace receivers. In reality these AM on FM signals are limited to low power FM translators that cover a fraction of the much larger AM signal area. AM has always had the advantage of distant coverage, creating a national daisy chain for communicating local and national emergencies and serving news, weather and information to underserved non-metro communities.

Scratch the surface of their unconvincing arguments and you’ll likely find the real reason these auto manufacturers want to cut AM out and eventually all free over-the-air radio is profit. Greed is already replacing comfort as we witness manufacturers push toward subscription-based in-car services that, today, we just consider part of the asking price (i.e. BMW starts selling heated seat subscriptions for $18 a month). Introducing a monthly fee to listen to free, over-the-air radio would raise consumer concerns, but removing the option altogether and forcing consumers to subscribe to manufacturer owned and controlled apps is the long and much more profitable game.

Furthermore, auto manufacturers are undermining the unique role AM and FM radio performs in their communities: providing local news, weather, information and sports in remote locations where it simply wouldn’t exist. As an AM owner and operator, I’ve heard listeners’ testimonials of survival solely through the information they received from their car radio. AM can remain in vehicles without any hindrance to the consumer or the manufacturer; there are solutions. Broadband and cellular are inconsistent and do not replace the emergency alerting structure that AM and FM provide. If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can require automobiles to have safety features like back-up cameras, airbags and seatbelts in the name of consumer safety, then AM and FM radio’s ability to immediately and consistently alert the public should be added to that list.

There are two must-read articles from Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies addressing this topic HERE and HERE. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) probed the auto industry on the removal of AM radio and Radio World summarized the auto industry’s responses in their article What Car Companies Told Markey About Radio.

More congressional leaders are starting to grow concerned with the auto industry’s move away from AM. Now is the time to rally our listeners’ support and have them bring forward their concerns for the loss of AM radio in their vehicles. The National Association of Broadcasters has compiled an AM Radio Toolkit with customizable scripts, sample texts, social media and sample emails for broadcasters to promote, educate and distribute to their listeners. 

The CBA is joining forces with other state broadcast associations, starting with a nationwide survey of each state’s AM broadcasters. Expect an email from me soon with a request to fill out the survey. The CBA will also continue meeting with our congressional leaders to stress the importance of AM in the dashboard and keeping free, over-the-air broadcast accessible to the 80+ million Americans who listen daily.

(Photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash)