Carmakers’ unsafe, un-American push to eliminate AM radio

Nothing is more American than a dirt road, a Ford truck and AM radio crackling through the speakers.

But some automotive makers — Ford among them — want to eliminate the AM option in all gas-powered and electric 2024 models.

The move isn’t only un-American — it’s just plain dumb.

AM radio is undisputedly the most reliable form of communication during emergencies.

And it’s not only small markets that depend on getting crucial information out via the airwaves — every major city uses AM alerts during manmade and natural disasters. 

A Pew Research Center survey last fall found that nearly 50% of US adults get their news from radio and about 47 million Americans still listen to AM radio regularly, which represents about 20% of the radio-listening public.

A recent Nielsen report says AM listeners tend to be older (about one-third are over 65), but the amount of time they spend listening to AM has increased slightly over the last five years, to just over two hours a day.

AM signals travel farther and reach more people, especially at night; they’re a critical news source in rural areas.

And AM stations often cater to a demographic traditional popular media ignores, offering diverse programming geared toward specific cultural and religious communities.

They also have broad coverage of diverse perspectives critical to the marketplace of ideas.

It’s an easily installable, reliable technology. Most carmakers have pledged to stick with the classic AM/FM options, but the few planning to do away with the AM wavelength say that electric vehicles generate more electromagnetic interference than gas-powered cars, disrupting the reception of AM signals and causing static, noise and a high-frequency hum. 

But this is 2023, folks — if you can make a car that drives itself, you can surely make a radio that receives a signal.

I have been leading the charge to save AM radio, and just last week at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, I met with members of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

I’ve also been speaking with some of our leading politicians in Washington, and I am urging the public to do the same and speak to their representatives about preserving the AM option in all new vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal reported in late February that seven former FEMA administrators wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and several congressional committees asking for the government to seek assurances from automakers that AM radio will remain a feature in vehicles.

Catsimatidis in the 77 WABC studio.Stefano Giovannini

Even former Vice President Mike Pence is on our side and voiced a “Save AM Radio” public-service announcement for 77 WABC, which I am offering to every radio station in America.

Broadcast AM radio is an essential part of our emergency-alert infrastructure, and it’s an integral piece of American history.

It was the first form of modern entertainment, as families convened around the radio in the 1920s to listen to music and story times. 

Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats drew the nation together during the Great Depression.

Thanks to the AM dial we were mesmerized by the music of Frank Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles.

And who isn’t drawn to the soft hum of Sunday summer baseball on the radio, the ball “popping” over the din of the “crack . . . crack . . . crackle-and-pop” AM dissonance?

The automotive industry is doing a huge disservice to Americans by even considering removing AM radio from cars.

They are putting the safety of Americans in peril by putting profits before people.

Americans deserve better. 

Americans deserve AM radio.

John Catsimatidis is the CEO of WABC radio.

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