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Car prices could jump if AM radio bill goes through, CTA says

The CTA - best known for its annual CES show in Las Vegas — says car prices could go up if lawmakers continue to push for AM radio.

The CTA - best known for its annual CES show in Las Vegas — says car prices could go up if lawmakers continue to push for AM radio.

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A trade association representing electronics manufacturers and others in the technology space has come out in opposition to a proposal that would mandate the reception of AM radio broadcasts in new cars sold in the United States.

On Friday, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) said the requirement proposed by some federal lawmakers last week would create significant and unnecessary challenges for car manufacturers, particularly those who are designing electric vehicles (EVs) whose motors might interfere with the reception of traditional AM radio signals.

“Requiring AM radio installation in new cars would impose additional costs on automakers, leading to increased prices for consumers,” a spokesperson for the CTA said in a statement. “AM radio reception is especially challenging and costly in new electric vehicles due to signal interference. This added burden could stifle innovation in other areas of vehicle development, potentially impeding safety features or advancements in fuel efficiency.”

The proposal announced last week comes after several EV manufacturers said they would stop offering AM radio tuners in new vehicles sold. The plan caused an outcry among traditional broadcasters and their lobbying groups, who say the move could harm public safety because emergency messages are often carried on commercial AM radio stations.

Proponents of AM radio have offered no concrete proof that ditching AM radio tuners in cars would lead to a public safety crisis, but their scare tactics were well-received on Capitol Hill and at the Federal Communications Commission, where lawmakers and government officials alike have backed the proposal that would mandate new cars to receive AM radio broadcasts.

The proposal doesn’t specifically say carmakers must provide AM radio tuners or any other hardware to receive AM radio signals. Instead, it says new cars must be equipped with hardware that can receive AM radio broadcasts; presumably, cars that offer radios capable of streaming AM radio stations would comply, but only if the carmakers footed the bill for wireless data plans that would be needed to access them.

Related: Carmakers, streaming audio execs say AM radio mandate is flawed

Carmakers and the CTA argue they already provide plenty of infotainment options in new cars that can receive streaming versions of AM and FM radio stations, if broadcasters make them available. They also note that satellite radio makes it possible to receive audio content — including emergency messages (SiriusXM is legally required to carry them) — in areas where AM and FM stations aren’t available.

“The advent of streaming services, which offer access to many AM and FM stations free of charge, as well as satellite radio has revolutionized the way we consume audio content,” the CTA said. “Mandating AM radio in new cars would be like mandating CD or 8-track cassette players. Obviously, if certain manufacturers want to provide CD or 8-track players, that’s their right, but Washington mandating them in 2023 makes no sense. Neither does mandating AM radio receivers in new vehicles.”

The CTA — which is best known for its Consumer Electronics Show every year — said the proposal appears to be one rooted more in emotion than logic.

“While AM radio holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of many and continues to offer important news, weather, and entertainment, mandating its installation in all new cars would be a nonsensical and counterproductive move by the federal government,” the organization said.

The CTA is not the first group to vocally oppose the federal proposal to mandate AM radio reception in cars: Last Thursday, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) called out lawmakers and trade groups like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) for using fear-based messages to conflate the importance of AM radio broadcasters in delivering timely emergency alert messages to the public.

“Whether AM radio is physically installed in vehicles in the future has no bearing on the various methods of delivering emergency communications that alert the public,” the AAI said. “This is simply a bill to prop up and give preference to a particular technology that’s now competing with other communications options and adapting to changing listenership.”

Other critics have noted that wireless phones are likely to do a better job at delivering timely, targeted emergency alert messages than AM radio on any given day. Emergency messages broadcast on AM radio are only received by the public if they happen to be listening to a radio station that redistributes those messages; on the other hand, wireless phones are almost always on, and they typically play a loud tone when a message is received.

Some executives who have favorable deals with broadcasters have also voiced concern over the proposal, which would mandate a non-safety feature in a car for the first time.

Richard Stern, the CEO of TuneIn, has agreements in place with dozens of traditional broadcasters who distribute streaming versions of their radio signals on his audio platform. Stern says he supports broadcasting as a business, but argues the proposal introduced by lawmakers and backed by industry groups like the National Association of Broadcasters is fundamentally flawed.

“AM transmission is a legacy distribution technology that is over 100 years old; insisting that modern electric vehicles carry AM receivers is like demanding iPhones support rotary dialing,” Stern said. “There are more efficient technologies…to deliver AM broadcasts to listeners. These new technologies point to a brighter future for the art of broadcasting and allow broadcasters to more meaningfully connect with modern audiences.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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