A bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed new legislation to ban automakers from building new vehicles without AM radio, a growing trend among producers of electric cars. There are safety risks of cars without AM radio, the group of both senators and members of the House of Representatives argue.
What You Need To Know
- A bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed new legislation to ban automakers from building new vehicles without AM radio, a growing trend among producers of electric cars
- The auto industry has made the case that AM radio is redundant with the advent of digital options and carmakers have said the decision was the product of electric vehicles’ engines creating electromagnetic interference that disrupts AM radio signals
- The law would create a federal rule that would require automakers to include AM radio in new cars for no additional cost
- “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,” Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the radio airwaves, said in a statement
At least eight of the world’s 20 largest carmakers have removed AM radio from their electric vehicles, with Ford opting to no longer include the option in any of their new vehicles, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey’s office said.
Those carmakers include BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo. Mercedes-Benz and General Motors declined to tell Markey’s office if they planned to remove the option from their new vehicles and instead relied on a statement from industry trade group, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation
“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 Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., in a statement.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
In March, Gottheimer highlighted the importance of AM radio in getting emergency information to the public during crises like Hurricane Sandy and after the 9/11 attacks.
The auto industry has made the case that AM radio is redundant with the advent of digital options and carmakers have said the decision was the product of electric vehicles’ engines creating electromagnetic interference that disrupts AM radio signals.
“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,” a Tesla executive wrote to Markey in January. “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”
According to the National Association of Broadcasters, 82 million Americans listen to AM radio each month.
Markey, a progressive and lead sponsor of the legislation announced on Wednesday, has forged a coalition behind the bill with GOP Sens. Ted Crux, R-Texas., and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.
Members of the House backing the proposed law include Gottheimer and Rep. Tom Kean Jr., D-N.J., — both members of the bipartisan, centrist Problem Solvers Caucus — fellow New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rob Mendenez and Reps. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wa.
The law would create a federal rule that would require automakers to include AM radio in new cars for no additional cost, mandate that cars built without AM radio before the rule be sold with clear notice they lack it, and direct the federal government to begin a study whether alternatives to AM radio could replicate its emergency alert capacity.
“AM radio serves as the backbone of our emergency alert system and remains critical to public safety. Millions of Americans also rely on AM radio to hear the latest local news and weather developments. Our more rural ag communities have a rich history of farm broadcasters, who for generations have helped family farmers and ranchers thrive,” Fischer said in a statement. “Automakers have no right to suddenly drop access to such an essential service, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this important bipartisan legislation.”
Wisconsin’s Baldwin and Arkansas’ Westerman both issued similar statements attesting to AM radio’s importance in rural communities. Cruz, a denizen of talk radio who has entered the audio industry himself with a popular podcast in recent years, emphasized AM radio’s role in public discourse.
“Each day, millions of Americans turn to AM radio to stay up to date on life in their community, engage on the issues they care about, or to be simply entertained during rush hour,” Cruz said in a statement. “AM radio is a critical bulwark for democracy, providing a platform for alternative viewpoints and the ability for elected officials to share our efforts with our constituents.”
But auto manufacturers and advocates have pushed back, citing the availability of AM radio broadcasts simulcast online or on FM and satellite radio stations. Concerns over the reach of emergency broadcasts are unfounded, they argue.
“Mandating AM radios in all vehicles is unnecessary. Congress has never mandated radio features in vehicles ever before,” the Alliance for Automotive Innovation said in a statement. “Automakers remain 100 percent committed to ensuring drivers have access to public alerts and safety warnings through the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System (IPAWS) system.”
The Alliance went on to argue “this is simply a bill to prop up and give preference to a particular technology that’s now competing with other communications options and adapting to changing listenership.”
The IPAWS system is the U.S. emergency warning system operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can send information to the public via mobile phones, radio, and television.
“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 life-saving information,” Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the radio airwaves, said in a statement. She pledged the FCC would provide support and expertise to the federal government if this law were to pass.
In February, seven former FEMA administrators from across four presidential administrations wrote a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to “ask that you secure assurances from automakers that they will put public safety before profits by maintaining AM radios in their vehicles.”
“Reconciling electric motors’ response to broadcast reception is a small price to pay for protecting public safety, and it’s critical that the United States’ leading transportation policymaker make automakers aware of this fact,” the former administrators wrote. “These companies benefited substantially from the many EV incentives passed within the Inflation Reduction Act, and we are calling on them to use just a small portion of these funds to protect the public interest.”
Or as Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., put it on the House floor earlier this week:
“In the 1980s, I remember when MTV first came on and the little jingle: ‘I want my MTV,’” Alford said. “Well, Mr. Speaker, it is 2023 and I want my AM radio.”