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Senate Committee Passes “AM For Every Vehicle Act,” Sends It to Senate Floor

Committee gives the legislation a green light

On Thursday morning, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation officially passed the AM For Every Vehicle Act on to the Senate floor. The executive session was broadcast live and facilitated by committee chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat representing Washington state.

The ranking Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, supports the measure, saying in a statement that “AM radio is vital to free expression and viewpoint diversity” and “allows Americans, especially conservatives, to communicate their points of view and help free speech flourish.”

The legislation was passed via a voice vote, and, while not every senator’s vote was recorded, the National Association of Broadcasters said Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, asked that he be recorded as a ‘no.'” Michigan is home to the U.S. automaker industry, which opposes the AM For Every Vehicle Act. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which has a base in Michigan, recently said, “Congress has never mandated radio features in vehicles ever before.” It called the bill unnecessary.

In response to the committee’s passage of the bill, NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt issued a statement:

“NAB applauds today’s Senate Commerce Committee passage of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act. This legislation will ensure that the tens of millions of AM radio listeners across the country retain access to local news, diverse community programming and emergency information. Moreover, this legislation enables AM radio’s continued role as the backbone of the nation’s Emergency Alert System. We thank Sens. Markey and Cruz, Chair Cantwell and the bipartisan cosponsors of this bill for their leadership to safeguard AM radio’s pivotal role in keeping the public informed when disaster strikes. We urge swift passage of this important legislation.”

The AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a rule requiring automakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate or additional payment, fee or surcharge. It says AM should be clearly visible on the vehicle’s dashboard; and until the new standard would take effect, cars lacking AM radio receivers would have to be labeled as such for buyers.

The bill also would direct the Government Accountability Office to study whether alternative communication systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of AM broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergencies.

Sen. Ed Markey has been a significant mover of the AM issue in Congress. Following Thursday’s vote, he said in a statement: “AM radio is an essential communication tool during emergencies, and for decades has been a source of news, entertainment, sports, and music for tens of millions of drivers. I thank Senator Cruz for his partnership as we work to cut through the noise and uphold access to AM radio as we plug into our clean energy, all-electric future.”

In his own statement, Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks applauded Congress for its bipartisan action, saying, “AM radio plays a critical role in our public safety infrastructure. As seven former heads of FEMA have explained, AM’s resiliency combined with the long distances AM signals propagate means ‘the success of the National Public Warning System hinges on the use of AM radio.’ I agree. Americans know in times of emergency that they can turn to AM radio.”

Not everyone, however, is pleased with the committee’s actions on Capitol Hill. Consumer Technology Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro called the move “an unprecedented and unnecessary attack on consumer choice and the free market.”

“Instead of advancing free-market principles, the Committee has now gone on record in support of Washington forcing private-sector businesses to sell a product that most consumers don’t even use or want,” said Shapiro. “Hopefully Congress will ultimately come to its senses and let consumers — not Washington — decide what they want in their new cars.”

AM at the Forefront

On May 24, following weeks of backlash from broadcasters, emergency management officials and legislators, Ford Motor Company announced that it had reversed its decision to remove AM radio from future vehicles in the U.S. and will now include the technology in its newer model cars.

At the beginning of June, state broadcast associations from all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico passed a resolution in support of the “AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act” in Congress.

On June 6, the Energy and Commerce Committee and its Communications and Technology Subcommittee held an “educational” hearing on the merit of AM radio, and for select witnesses to field questions.

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