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AM Advocates Bolstered by Moves on Capitol Hill

The proposed "AM for Every Vehicle Act" would make the service mandatory in cars

AM radio broadcasters have been hoping to get the full force of Congress behind their effort to sway carmakers to keep AM radio in new vehicles. Now, momentum appears to be swinging in their favor.  

Introduced this week, the “AM for Every Vehicle Act” would give the government power to mandate that automakers maintain AM service in their future car models. If adopted, the act would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement new rules requiring car manufacturers to keep the service without any additional charges.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, a contingent of those behind the bill hosted a press call to take questions about the new federal action. They say AM radio is a vital public safety and emergency tool in times of crisis.

“AM radio is a crucial part of our diverse media ecosystem,” said Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat who teamed up with Republican Senator Ted Cruz and others to sponsor the legislation in the U.S. Senate. Markey called the sponsors of the bill a “bipartisan, bicameral coalition” trying to save AM radio and “stop corporate greed.”

Markey referenced The Buggles song “Video Killed the Radio Star” and said if the songwriters wrote the song today they would have to update the lyrics to “automakers killed the radio star.”

The Massachusetts senator concluded his comments: “[Radio] didn’t die 40 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 20 years ago — and like video before it, automakers will and must fail. That’s what will happen when we get this legislation passed.”

The act, which has the support of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, would also direct the Government Accountability Office to study whether alternative communications systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergencies. Carmakers, who have already slammed the mandatory AM bill, contend there are various methods to deliver emergency alerts.

Representative Josh Gottheimer also spoke during Thursday’s zoom press call and said carmakers are taking AM radios out of new cars just to save a few bucks. “Carmakers like Ford and Tesla say the electromagnetic field emitted by EVs disrupts reception to AM radios, but others like GM have figured out how to fix it.”  

He continued: “AM radio is the backbone of emergency alerting in this country. It’s resilient to cyber attacks, nuclear threats and natural disasters,” Gottheimer said. “When the cell phone goes out and the internet is cut off or the TV doesn’t work because of no power, radio will be there. That’s why it’s important to protect AM radio and not just forget about it and put it behind us.” 

[Related: “Car Companies Criticize the ‘Mandatory AM’ Bill“]

Rep. Gottheimer says he has written to Ford, Tesla, Volkswagen, Volvo, BMW, Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Polestar and others urging them to reconsider their decisions to remove AM radio from new cars. “In March I also wrote to NHTSA asking them to make AM radio a minimum safety standard on vehicles like airbags, brakes and seatbelts since AM radio is a pivotal public safety tool.”

The congressman from New Jersey said he is unsure of the odds of the bill passing and being signed into law by the president. “But it’s incredible to me the outpouring of support, not only for AM radio, but also by the fact that we need to protect people’s security and our country’s security,” he said.

Rep. Gottheimer, who serves on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said he and other members of the national security community “will be pressuring the autos to do the right thing and back out of the decision they have made. We’ll see if they do it or whether it will be legislative and NHTSA that does it.”       

It’s a national security issue, Rep Gottheimer says, “because we have invested as a country through FEMA and in these AM stations because the technology is built to carry the furthest, which is why we have put backup power into these facilities.”  

Radio World asked the representative if he thought FM radio should be lumped in with AM in a federal mandate. “There’s been no one right now who even has talked about touching FM, but I worry that that could be next, so we will certainly be looking at that.” 

Thursday’s legislative press call on Capitol Hill also included House co-sponsors Reps. Tom Kean Jr., and Rob Menendez.    

[Read more stories about the future of AM radio in cars]