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The Ford News Is Nice But What’s the Lesson Here?

AM's deficiencies and most of its obstacles remain in place

Getty Images/Marcelo Murillo

Ford’s about-face decision to retain AM radio in 2024 model year cars in the United States is, of course, a welcome bit of good news for those broadcasters.

The best outcome would be if Ford’s move puts market pressure on other car companies to do the same, stemming what was starting to feel like a threatening avalanche in electric vehicles and beyond.

Maybe we’ll look back on this past week and say “All of radio, not just FM, dodged a bullet. Momentum to remove AM was stopped thanks to quick and effective work through the NAB and its allies on Capitol Hill. And the events of the week made clear to carmakers that both AM and FM are still ‘something apart,’ valued in this country by lawmakers and listeners alike in a way that’s different from most other forms of audio.”

Again, that would be a nice outcome.

But pragmatism advises otherwise. Neither AM station owners nor other radio broadcasters can feel complacent.

For one thing, Ford CEO Jim Farley didn’t make promises beyond the coming year (though his reference to radio’s role in the emergency alert system is encouraging).

I can easily imagine Ford management — uneasy about recent headlines and the poor look of their company seeming not to care about needs of rural drivers — just choosing to fight this battle another day. Indeed Ford’s timing may have hurt the chances of the legislation that AM broadcasters are so excited about.

For another, there are still seven carmakers on Sen. Ed Markey’s s**t list that haven’t announced any change in their plans, and I have a hard time imagining Elon Musk and Tesla, at least, backtracking on this issue.

Further, it’s clear that automakers and the consumer electronics industry plan to fight the legislation that would mandate free AM reception in cars. Gary Shapiro’s Consumer Technology Association has called the bill “nonsensical and counterproductive.” He joined the auto industry’s alliance in pressing lawmakers not to pursue it.

Last, all of the deficiencies of AM radio that have been hauled under the spotlight for the past few months remain in place. Putting aside the welcome fresh attention to its role in emergency alerting, the AM business is no healthier than it was a week ago.

So what are AM broadcasters and their supporters doing, beyond the lobbying, to give Americans more reasons to tune in or more ways to find them via other platforms? Because I would be sorry if the real lesson of recent days is that the only thing still holding up the AM industry is a real or threatened federal mandate.

[Read more recent coverage of the AM issue by Radio World.]