AM Dial 375

If the government can require safety belts in every vehicle to protect drivers, then it should also be able to require an AM receiver to ensure Americans can access emergency alerts. That is the idea behind legislation introduced Wednesday that would require carmakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in new vehicles at no additional charge. For car models that have already dropped the feature, until it can be brought back, the proposed AM for Every Vehicle Act would mandate a warning label alerting buyers what is missing be slapped on the window at the dealer showroom.

“For decades, free AM broadcast radio has been an essential tool in emergencies, a crucial part of our diverse media ecosystem, and an irreplaceable source for news, weather, sports, and entertainment for tens of millions of listeners,” said Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). “Carmakers shouldn’t tune out AM radio in new vehicles or put it behind a costly digital paywall.”

Markey is one of several cosponsors of the bill, which was introduced with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Among other backers are Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and J.D. Vance (R-OH) as well as Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Tom Kean, Jr. (R-NJ), Rob Menendez (D-NJ), Bruce Westerman (R-AR), and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA).

“Elon Musk and Tesla and other car manufacturers are putting public safety and emergency response at risk,” Gottheimer said. “The importance of AM radio during large-scale emergencies cannot be underestimated, and it has, without a doubt and without interruption, saved lives and kept our communities informed. When the cell phone runs out, the internet gets cut off, or the television doesn’t work because of no electricity or power to your house, you can still turn on your AM radio.”

If passed, the bill would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a rule that requires automakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate or additional payment, fee, or surcharge. The Government Accountability Office would also be required to study whether alternative communication systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of AM broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergencies. That could open a door to allowing car companies to drop AM longer-term.

So far, eight automakers have removed AM radio from their electric cars, according to a survey done by Sen. Markey. Ford has said that going forward, it will exclude AM receivers from the dashboard of all of their consumer vehicles; gas, diesel, and electric. Of the 20 automakers he surveyed, several others were noncommittal.

The effort to preserve AM’s place in the dashboard has been most pronounced in rural America and Westerman said that the severe weather that his district in Arkansas experiences means many people still rely on AM broadcast radio for breaking news. “In the case of severe weather,” he said, “AM radio is critical in updating the public to assure their safety.”

Several conservative radio hosts have also suggested the move to drop AM is geared to reducing the political influence of talk radio. Cruz agrees, calling AM radio “a critical bulwark for democracy” as it provides a platform for alternative viewpoints while also giving elected officials a way to share their thoughts with voters.

FCC Supports Congressional Action

If passed, the law would do what the Federal Communications Commission cannot, since it has no regulatory authority over the car industry. In a rare statement by her in favor of pending legislation in Congress, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said she backs the proposal.

“There is a clear public safety imperative here,” Rosenworcel said. “Having AM radio available in our cars means we always have access to emergency alerts and key warnings while we are out on the road. Updating transportation should not mean sacrificing access to what can be life-saving information,” she said in a statement.

The National Association of Broadcasters has been spearheading the industry’s efforts to enlist help in Washington, and it praised the lawmakers for supporting the bill which NAB President Curtis LeGeyt said would ensure tens of millions of Americans would still have access to AM. “As the backbone of the Emergency Alert System, AM radio is instrumental in promptly disseminating vital information across all mediums during crises, ensuring that communities remain safe and well-informed,” he said.

In the days that come, the AM for Every Vehicle Act sponsors are likely to pick up additional cosponsors based on what has been brewing on Capitol Hill. This week 100 House members sent letters to Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Tesla, Polestar, Rivian, GM and Mercedes-Benz urging them to maintain AM radio in all their vehicles.