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Senators demand EV car makers keep AM radio access

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Two federal lawmakers have sent a letter to more than a half-dozen electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers urging them to preserve access to AM radio programming in their cars and trucks.

The letter came amid a bipartisan push by some lawmakers to mandate AM radio access in all newer-model cars and trucks sold in the United States, as well as calls from the commercial radio industry that promote the broadcast standard’s importance during severe weather and similar emergencies.

On Friday, Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Ted Cruz of Texas sent letters to seven carmakers — BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo — urging them to follow in the footsteps of rival Ford by affirming their continued support for AM radio access.

Last month, the CEO of Ford said the company would support AM radios in their newer-model electric vehicles through at least 2024, and would reverse an earlier decision to block AM radio tuners that were already installed in some vehicles by pushing through a software update that makes them active once again.

Ford and others have said that electric motors used in EVs interfere with AM radio signals, making them unusable in electric vehicles and causing frustration among consumers. They note that in-car infotainment systems, which come standard across most EV models, allow drivers to stream AM radio programming from most major broadcast station groups, including iHeartRadio, Audacy and Cumulus.

Related: Carmakers say AM radio bill is fundamentally flawed

Lawmakers and public interest groups like the National Association of Broadcasters criticized the move, saying the removal of AM radio tuners in electric vehicles would cause a public safety crisis because AM radio stations transmit emergency messages. They claim that AM radio towers are somehow more resilient than wireless phone numbers during natural disasters, though recent severe weather events have proven both forms of technology are subject to prolonged outages.

Still, lawmakers want the seven other EV makers to follow in Ford’s footsteps, and have urged them to support the reception of AM radio programming in their cars. If they don’t, the lawmakers warn that there is currently pending legislation that could force them to do so.

“Amid the public outcry over some automakers removing AM radio from electric vehicles, Ford’s decision is a welcome, albeit incomplete, development,” Markey and Cruz wrote in their letters. “As the lead authors of the AM for Every Vehicle Act, we ask that you follow Ford’s lead and make a similar commitment to maintain broadcast AM radio in your company’s current and future vehicle models, including electric vehicles.”

The senators say around 40 percent of radio listeners do so in their cars — they didn’t say how the other 60 percent consume radio programming, though it is presumably online — and said the minority of in-car listeners was more than enough to justify the continued support of a platform whose audience is growing older in age and dwindling in size by the day.

“Preserving AM radio not only aligns with the growing recognition of its significance, but also demonstrates a commitment to public safety and meeting consumer expectations,” the lawmakers posit. “We request that you respond to this letter with a commitment to keep AM radio in all your new vehicles.”

Not everyone is being suckered in by the unsubstantiated claims that play up AM radio’s outsized importance. Richard Stern, the CEO of streaming audio platform TuneIn — which recently made its premium broadcast and monetization tools free to licensed AM radio stations — said requiring EV makers to support AM radio broadcasts “is like demanding iPhones support rotary dialing.”

“There are more efficient technologies, such as [digital audio broadcasting] and [Internet Protocol-based systems] to deliver AM broadcasts to listeners,” Stern said last month. “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 the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).