Is this the end of Classic Country Radio? Carmakers and Congress clash over the future of AM Radio

The debate in Washington, D.C. over the future of AM radio in new car models is heating up.

Currently, broadcast radio is the most popular source of in-car entertainment, and 40% of all radio listening is done in cars. 41% of radio listeners prefer country music, second only to rock and alternative music.

In recent years, some electric models have dropped AM radio. But when Ford announced in March plans to phase out AM radio in most of its new and updated internal combustion engine models, including the 2024 Ford Mustang, it caught the attention of many lawmakers on Capital Hill.

In addition to being home to the top classic country stations in the United States, AM radio plays a critical community and public safety role for many small towns and remote rural areas across the country.

Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel released a statement that said, “There is a clear public safety imperative here. Having AM radio available in our cars means we always have access to emergency alerts and key warnings while we are out on the road. Updating transportation should not mean sacrificing access to what can be lifesaving information. We stand ready to provide any necessary support and expertise to the Department of Transportation and Government Accountability Office as they may need.”

In response, Senator Markey was Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as House Representatives Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Tom Kean Jr. (NJ-7), Rob Menendez (NJ-8), Bruce Westerman (AR-4), and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-3) introduced the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act of 2023.

The bipartisan, bicameral AM for Every Vehicle Act will:

  • Direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue a rule that requires automakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate or additional payment, fee, or surcharge;
  • Require any automaker that sells vehicles without access to AM broadcast radio before the effective date of the NHTSA rule to clearly disclose to consumers that the vehicle lacks access to AM broadcast radio; and,
  • Direct the Government Accountability Office to study whether alternative communication systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of AM broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergencies.

“As more and more Americans adopt electric vehicles, we must ensure that they are equipped with AM radio. AM radio is—and will remain—an essential communications channel for emergency alerts and for disseminating news and other important information to residents of our district and communities across our country. I am proud to co-lead this bipartisan legislation which would ensure EVs continue to be equipped with this basic but critical capability,” said Rep. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), another co-sponsor.

Car manufacturers claim that electromagnetic interference from electric engines causes static on the AM spectrum.

“Specifically, electric vehicle drivetrains produce electromagnetic waves that interfere with the frequency of AM radio signals, which operate at a similar wavelength to the electric drivetrain,” Tesla said in a statement. “The resulting electromagnetic interference impacts the strength of the AM broadcast signal, causing severe disruption to AM radio transmission that makes the signal reception unstable and unusable.” 

After seeing the public support for AM radio, Ford CEO Jim Farley said that the automaker is reversing its plan to remove AM radio from electric and gasoline-operated vehicles in 2024.

Farley, in a post on his LinkedIn professional page and a tweet on Twitter, said:

“After speaking with policy leaders about the importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system, we’ve decided to include it on all 2024 Ford & Lincoln vehicles. For any owners of Ford EVs without AM broadcast capability, we’ll offer a software update. Customers can currently listen to AM radio content in a variety of ways in our vehicles — including via streaming — and we will continue to innovate to deliver even better in-vehicle entertainment and emergency notification options in the future. Thanks to our product development and manufacturing teams for their quick response to make this change for our customers.”

Still, many in Congress would like to see more EV manufacturers follow Ford’s leadership.

“I would think that if Elon Musk has enough money to buy Twitter and send rockets to space, he can afford to include AM radio in his Teslas. Instead, Elon Musk and Tesla and other car manufacturers are putting public safety and emergency response at risk,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), one of the co-sponsors of the legislation.

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