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Kentucky Broadcasters Association presses auto manufacturers to maintain access to AM radio

Kentucky Broadcasters Association

At least seven automakers have removed AM radio from their newly manufactured vehicles. The KBA argues AM radio has a robust, far-reaching audience and remains a critical link in the nation’s emergency response network.

The head of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association is pressing Congress to pass a bill that would keep AM radio in newly manufactured vehicles.

At least seven automakers have removed AM radio, including BMW, Mazda, Tesla, Volkswagon, and Volvo.

Ford initially made the same move, but later reversed its decision.

“We've decided to include it on all 2024 Ford and Lincoln vehicles," CEO Jim Farley wrote on Twitter. "For any owners of Ford's EVs without AM broadcast capability, we'll offer a software update” to restore it, he said.

KBA President Chris Winkle says AM radio reaches 82 million Americans each week through news, talks shows, and entertainment. He says it also serves communities of color and non-English speakers, as well as both rural and urban areas.

Winkle argues those factors make AM radio critical for public safety.

"The National Emergency Alert System, when activated, reaches 90% of the American population," Winkle said in an interview with WKU Public Radio. "AM radio plays such a large role in that because the emergency alert system is built on the AM radio backbone."

Winkle adds that AM technology is not internet-based and is more resilient because it doesn’t rely on the web or cellular networks.

Ford, General Motors, and Toyota all have a manufacturing presence in Kentucky. Ford and Toyota are keeping AM radio in their vehicles, at least for now. GM has not responded to inquiries.

While electric vehicle engines can interfere with the sound of AM stations, Winkle said he thinks that’s being used as an excuse to remove it all together from new vehicles.

"You can get 15 engineers in a room and they'll all disagree conceptually whether AM and the EV batteries cause each other interference," Winkle said. “Sen. (Edward) Markey, who is one of the leads on the legislation, likes to say if Elon Musk can put rockets in space, certainly he can figure out any interference issue between an EV battery and AM radio."

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has introduced the AM for Every Vehicle Act, which calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require AM in new vehicles at no additional cost. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. The measure is still awaiting a hearing in the U.S. House.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has joined the coalition in urging EV manufacturers to keep open what he called an important avenue of communication.

In a letter last week to the Electric Drive Transportation Association and the Zero Emission Transportation Association, Cameron said phasing out AM radio would make Kentuckians less safe. He cited the 2021 tornadoes and 2022 flooding as examples of times when emergency information can be received over AM radio sources.

“During those emergencies,” the letter states, “it is vitally important that federal, state, and local officials be able to deliver emergency warnings and other information to their citizens.” AM radio covers over “90 percent of the U.S. population and ensures that state and federal agencies can quickly, dependably, and cheaply distribute life-saving information across vast geographical areas.”

The letter was signed by attorneys general in 15 other states, including Indiana.

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

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