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SCHERER: Bipartisan AM Radio Bill Is Already Having a Positive Effect

Ford Motor Co. announced last month that it would not remove AM radio from 2024 vehicle models. The surprise announcement comes on the heels of a bipartisan bill requiring auto manufacturers to maintain AM radio capabilities in all new vehicles at no additional cost to consumers. 

Known as the AM for Every Vehicle Act, the measure addresses the recent trend in manufacturers choosing to phase out AM radios from electric vehicles.

To that effect, the act already appears to have a noticeable effect. Ford’s policy reversal seems to have been influenced by recent discussions between company CEO Jim Farley and policy leaders “about the importance of AM broadband radio as part of the emergency alert system.” If that’s true, then other manufacturers may eventually reach similar conclusions. 

This is good news for consumers because it means regardless of whether the act becomes law, it may still force a change in industry behavior. Consumers deserve access to as many sources of information as possible, including AM radio.

AM radio not only provides Americans with access to essential services like traffic reports, talk radio and sports programming, but it also serves as a critical public safety tool. Indeed, AM radio is one of the primary tools by which federal, state and local governments communicate with the public during national emergencies.

FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System serves as a prime example. This warning system relies on AM radio to help deliver life-saving information to the public during weather-related emergencies. During natural disasters, alternative forms of communication are not always reliable.

Hurricane Katrina famously knocked out power and disrupted wireless phone service for thousands in Louisiana in 2005. AM radio served as a valuable lifeline to these people, providing them with important information about rescue and recovery efforts. A similar chain of events happened recently in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria. There, too, power and communication services were knocked out with the destruction of many of the island’s electrical lines and cell towers. Service wasn’t restored for an extended period after the hurricane.

Perhaps this is one reason seven former FEMA administrators sent a letter to automakers earlier this year urging them to protect AM radio. They understand that AM radio still plays a critical role in delivering emergency information, especially to Americans in remote locations.

Lawmakers also understand what is at stake and have attempted to address these concerns in the AM for Every Vehicle Act. Among the major features of this act are directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue an official rule within one year that requires automakers to maintain AM radio in vehicles, mandating that automakers that sell vehicles without access to AM radio before the effective date disclose this information to consumers, and directing the Government Accountability Office to study whether alternative forms of communication can “fully replicate the reach and effectiveness.”

Manufacturers have long argued that phasing out AM radio from new vehicles is necessary to prevent electromagnetic interference, which occurs when an EV’s electric motor disrupts AM transmissions. They say that consumers are unlikely to notice the difference since motorists can still obtain news by listening to internet radio or accessing streaming services and Bluetooth-enabled apps. However, many alternative services cost money and may not always be easily accessible. Requiring the GAO to produce a report on the matter could go a long way toward settling the issue.

It’s also important to note that the technology already exists to get around the issue of electromagnetic interference. Car manufacturers can install filters, use protective shielding for high-voltage cables and connectors and move radio receivers farther away from EV components. Indeed, some manufacturers like Hyundai-Kia have resolved the signal problem and have committed to keeping AM radio available in future vehicles. There is no reason other manufacturers cannot make similar commitments.

Despite some evidence that AM radio is declining in popularity, 47 million Americans still tune into their local AM radio stations every day. These Americans don’t deserve to lose access to one of the few remaining sources of free on-the-ground information.

Fortunately, most lawmakers agree. Democrats and Republicans recognize the vital role that AM radio plays in delivering news, entertainment and critical safety information to millions of Americans free. The sooner manufacturers recognize this, the better.

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