If you listen to AM radio as part of your morning or afternoon commute, some new cars may carry a nasty little surprise for you.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t regularly listened to AM radio for a long time. For the past nine years, I’ve driven a car that has Sirius XM. After battling them for years about the price of their subscription, we finally settled on a price I’m willing to pay. In exchange, I mostly listen to a single channel on Sirius: the 70s channel.
Ah, songs of the 1970s had not only lyrics you could mostly understand, they also had actual melodies rather than just rhythm beds. What a concept!
But my daily commute is only about two minutes. I strategically found a home that was close to work. So on a normal day, I’m not necessarily behind the wheel long enough to even hear one full song at a time.
AM radio was the first radio option the nation had. The AM experiment traces its beginnings all the way back to the early 1900s. AM broadcasting didn’t really begin until the 1920s, but once it was on the scene, people started listening. What we know as “the Golden Age of Radio” is the period from the 1920s through the 1950s when AM was the choice.
In the 1950s, FM radio came on the scene with what many considered a superior sound, particularly for music. FM would quickly dominate the radio airwaves, leaving AM as the place for more talk and sports.
Fast-forward seventy years and AM is still alive and kicking. If you look at the top 100 streamed radio stations, you’ll find some AM stations among even the top 10.
But if you love your AM and you buy a new car, you might be in for a nasty surprise.
Carmakers phasing out AM radio
BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Volkswagen and Tesla, among others, have either already removed or plan to remove the AM option from at least some electric models, The Hill reported. It also reported that electric motors can interfere with AM station frequencies, making it sound staticky over the airwaves.
Ford announced back in April that they would begin removing AM from most of their vehicles. Here’s how they explained the decision:
A majority of U.S. AM stations, as well as a number of countries and automakers globally, are modernizing radio by offering internet streaming through mobile apps, FM, digital, and satellite radio options. Ford will continue to offer these alternatives for customers to hear their favorite AM radio music, news and podcasts as we remove amplitude modulation – the definition of AM in this case – from most new and updated models we bring to market.
A majority. A majority doesn’t mean all. In smaller communities where AM stations can’t afford internet streaming options or mobile apps, the information they broadcast may be harder to get.
If all carmakers remove AM radio, they’re effectively helping put those stations out of business.
Michael Harrison, who publishes Talkers, a radio industry journal, spoke with The Washington Post and called the move “tone deaf.”
The Post reported that Toyota and Honda say they have no plans to eliminate AM radio. General Motors, it said, hasn’t revealed its plans.
As a broadcaster, I have to cry foul here. If cable television carriers decided to phase out local stations because “most local stations offer their own apps,” I’d feel the same way. Some TV stations don’t yet offer their own apps for streaming. Most that do only offer news programming. If you want to watch network programming, you have to subscribe to that network’s streaming app if it offers one. There’s no one solution that would be a perfect alternative.
Sure, if you have a radio in your home that picks up AM, you can still listen. But if you do your radio listening in your car, and your car can’t get a signal from an AM station, how is that helping you or the station?
If stations that can afford it have the technology to make streaming an option, surely carmakers can handle the “interference” problem. They shouldn’t have to put stations out of business out of convenience.