Ford will include AM radio capabilities in all new electric vehicles sold this year, and will restore access to AM radio tuners in existing cars through a software update, the company’s CEO confirmed in a social media post on Tuesday.
The move reverses a course set by Ford that would have seen AM radio dropped from new-model electric vehicles sold in the United States, a position that triggered strong criticism from broadcasters and their lobbying groups over the last few months.
For weeks, groups like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and some independent AM radio station operators have proclaimed the need to “save” AM radio from carmakers like Ford who intended to remove it. Carmakers said AM radio signals can’t be reliably received in their vehicles due to interference caused by electric motors; broadcasters said removing AM radio tuners would create a public safety calamity, since emergency messages are transmitted through AM radio (but, also, FM radio, television signals and cell phones).
The broadcasters had the loudest voice, which eventually reached Capitol Hill and provoked federal lawmakers to introduce a proposal that would have required carmakers to offer free access to AM radio broadcasts, whether over-the-air or via streaming. If passed, it would have been the first time the federal government mandated a feature in a vehicle without a clear and conspicuous nexus to safety.
To date, no one has provided definitive proof that dropping AM radio would create a public safety issue, since emergency messages transmitted over broadcast radio are also available via television, wireless phones, social media and a number of other platforms. But the outcry was enough to convince Ford to reverse course, and on Tuesday, the company’s CEO said its electric vehicles will include the ability to pull in AM radio signals after all.
“After speaking with policy leaders about the importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system, we’ve decided to include it on all 2024 Ford & Lincoln vehicles,” Jim Farley, Ford’s chief executive, wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “For any owners of Ford EVs without AM broadcast capability, we’ll offer a software update.”
Farley didn’t say whether the company would commit to AM radio over the long term, and even seemed to suggest that removing AM radio tuners from cars in the future was not off the table.
“Customers can currently listen to AM radio content in a variety of ways in our vehicles – including via streaming – and we will continue to innovate to deliver even better in-vehicle entertainment and emergency notification options in the future,” he said.
Shortly after Ford’s announcement, NAB issued a statement of their own in which they commended the carmaker for supporting AM radio broadcasts for a while longer.
“In light of Ford’s announcement, NAB urges other automakers who have removed AM radio from their vehicles to follow Ford’s lead and restore this technology in the interest of listeners and public safety,” a spokesperson for the NAB said.