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AM in EVs? Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

So maybe the problem is lack of will

Dear RW: I have been reading, with interest and concern, the discussion of AM radio in electric vehicles. As an engineer, I tend to take the “where there’s a will there’s a way” approach to this RF interference problem. And indeed the presence of EVs with working AM radios confirms my thoughts.

I recently remembered that gasoline engines are hostile to AM reception – four to eight spark plugs firing thousands of times a second, depending on engine RPM. Most readers have, on occasion, heard this noise-whine as the engine accelerates. And yet automobiles have supported AM despite these challenges since about 1930 (the consensus is that Motorola’s first product, installed in the Galvin Brothers Coupe Deluxe was the first).

Back in the 1950s and 1960s there were numerous DIY articles on this subject. I recall one that showed using a modified tin can (a tuna can as I recall) as an RF shield over the distributor cap. Over time auto manufacturers upped their game to include proper design such that OEM radios had acceptable performance. Those installing non-OEM radios still sometime have to take steps to eliminate RFI.

Electronics, including radio receiver technology, have advanced since the 1960s, and even in the past decade or so it has advanced by leaps and bounds. This is not a technical problem. And I doubt it is legitimately matter of cost (proper radio design and RFI mitigation would be a small fraction of a percent of the cost of the cheapest EV). If the right engineers are involved and motivated, solutions are surely not that difficult.

So what’s the reason behind the failure to support AM by certain manufacturers ? Could it be as simple as the perceived lack of “sexiness” of radio (especially AM) by auto execs as well as auto entertainment system design engineers? This could be analogous to advertisers that forgo the audience reach of radio because of the combination of ignorance and this same sexiness factor applied to new media options that actually underperform.

I don’t know that there’s a solution to either of these conundrums. Audacy and iHeart are actively attempting to educate advertisers to the value of radio. All we can do is to continue to educate the public on the value of AM radio receivers. Testimonials from folks that have endured recent disasters and seen first-hand the value of broadcasting for themselves would be helpful.

This letter is my opinion only, and does not represent the views of my own employer.

The author is owner of Rocket Engineering and Consulting.