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Radio on the Radar

Don’t lose sight of the threat to radio in the dashboard

In the latest issue of Radio World, NAB President/CEO Curtis LeGeyt talks about his first year on the job with our contributor Randy Stine.

The NAB is active in a lot of areas, of course; but it is, foremost, a lobbying and advocacy organization. For an example of the importance of such work, you don’t have to look further than an announcement in December by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

Markey is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He issued a press release saying that he had written to 20 carmakers urging them to maintain broadcast AM radio as a feature in new cars, including electric vehicles. 

Markey asked each carmaker to tell him, in writing, whether they have decided to discontinue free AM and/or FM radio in any of their products. His letter was sent to all the big names: General Motors, Ford, BMW, American Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia and so on.

“Although EVs can cause electromagnetic interference with AM radio signals, car manufacturers appear to have developed innovative solutions to this problem,” Markey wrote. 

“Therefore, as the United States works to meet President Biden’s goal of 50 percent electric vehicle sales by 2030, we urge your company to maintain broadcast AM radio in its vehicles to ensure that consumers have access to critical emergency response information.”

Judging from the depth and nature of its contents, this three-page letter was almost certainly prepared in coordination with the NAB. It’s a perfect example of how an effective advocacy group can work through its legislative allies not only to influence public policy but to put pressure on market partners. So score one for NAB. 

But the larger issue here is very concerning.

As consultant Fred Jacobs pointed out a few weeks earlier, the latest Ford F-150 Lightning truck, an electric vehicle, does not have AM tuning. 

“Following in the footsteps of Musk’s Teslas, this amazing truck won’t be able to receive stations like WABC, WWL, WGN and other AM stalwarts, still slugging it out in the broadcast radio landscape,” Jacobs wrote on his blog and on the Radio World website. He wondered why more radio people weren’t expressing concern about it.

“These stations will be accessible via apps, of course, but the AM tuner is a thing of the past in these forward-leaning F-150 Lightnings. … The 2022 F-150 Lightning had a whip antenna to facilitate AM reception. Now, the Ford brain trust has apparently concluded it’s not worth the expense for a radio platform that is clearly facing the death spiral. … In an obvious slap in the face to radio broadcasters, Ford is sending the message that AM radio doesn’t really matter to their drivers.”

Jacobs adds that FM broadcasters should not feel smug because such decisions by carmakers could be seen as a lack of confidence in radio itself. 

We spend a lot of time and space in Radio World writing about how radio is presented in the connected car and how it may evolve further. The developments above demonstrate why this topic is so important. 

I’ve heard it said that today’s cars are like smartphones on wheels. Given how central the radio was to a driver’s experience in the past, we might realize that, at one time, cars were like radios on wheels. But our medium doesn’t enjoy that secure and privileged position anymore. 

It’s crucial that our industry stays engaged with the question of how drivers and passengers experience radio and how carmakers perceive its value. We’ll continue to cover that story. Send me your own ideas to [email protected].