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Congress looks to save AM radio in cars as EV manufacturers phase it out

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News brief: 

Several electric vehicle companies, including Tesla and BMW, are phasing out AM radio, arguing that their new motors interfere with AM signals and create an irritating buzzing noise. But a bipartisan effort in Congress would require all automakers to maintain AM capabilities in their new vehicles at no extra charge.

A U.S. House subcommittee held a hearing in early June about the importance of AM radio. Some lawmakers are concerned people could lose access to a vital source of information if the century-old medium is phased out. The broadcasting community is worried about the decline of hyper-local channels, especially for under-represented groups such as immigrants.

J. Chapman, an owner of several AM radio stations and member of the National Association of Broadcasters, said during the hearing that AM radio is also crucial in emergencies.

“Unlike the internet and cell phones, which oftentimes go down in a moment of crisis, the AM radio stations and radio in general stays up during that,” he said. “A car is oftentimes the only source of power in news during an emergency.”

Despite a lower overall sound quality compared to FM, AM waves can also travel over large distances and are less impacted by physical barriers like buildings and mountains.

Radio listenership in general is trending down, in part due to the emergence of satellite radio and internet streaming. Yet more than 82 million Americans tune into AM radio each month, and AM and FM radio still remains the most popular audio source on U.S. highways.

The automotive industry has written testimony against any AM radio mandates, arguing listener habits are constantly evolving and manufacturers remain committed to ensuring access to free public safety warnings. The legislation, called the “AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act,” would also require car companies to disclose if any vehicles they sell don’t come with AM radios.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Will Walkey

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