End of a love affair: AM radio is being removed from many cars

An era is coming to an end.  The AM radio, which made Rush Limbaugh a star and brings golden oldies to your car, is about be history.

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“Ford, BMW, Volkswagen, Tesla and other automakers are eliminating AM radio from some new vehicles, stirring protests against the loss of a medium that has shaped American life for a century

Life and times change, we adopt or get nostalgic about is what is gone.  I have XM satellite radio in my car.  I listen to all the cable news stations, the Golden 60’ and 50’s songs, old time radio with stories of drama, comedy and history.  I do not need AM radio—and now, it will soon not be a choice.  Sad to see it go.

End of a love affair: AM radio is being removed from many cars

Ford, BMW, Volkswagen, Tesla and other automakers are eliminating AM radio from some new vehicles, stirring protests against the loss of a medium that has shaped American life for a century

By Marc Fisher, Washington Post,  5/13/23    https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/05/13/am-radio-electric-cars/

America’s love affair between the automobile and AM radio — a century-long romance that provided the soundtrack for lovers’ lanes, kept the lonely company with ballgames and chat shows, sparked family singalongs and defined road trips — is on the verge of collapse, a victim of galloping technological change and swiftly shifting consumer tastes.

The breakup is entirely one-sided, a move by major automakers to eliminate AM radios from new vehicles despite protests from station owners, listeners, first-responders and politicians from both major parties.

Automakers, such as BMW, Volkswagen, Mazda and Tesla, are removing AM radios from new electric vehicles because electric engines can interfere with the sound of AM stations. And Ford, one of the nation’s top-three auto sellers, is taking a bigger step, eliminating AM from all ofits vehicles, electric or gas-operated.

Some station owners and advertisers contend that losing access to the car dashboard will indeed be a death blow to many of the nation’s 4,185 AM stations — the possible demise of a core element of the nation’s delivery system for news, political talk (especially on the right), coverage of weather emergencies and foreign language programming.

“This is a tone-deaf display of complete ignorance about what AM radio means to Americans,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade journal covering the talk radio industry. “It’s not the end of the world for radio, but it is the loss of an iconic piece of American culture.”

For the first hundred years of mass media, AM radio shapedAmerican life: It was where Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his fireside chats; where a young Ronald Reagan announced Chicago Cubs baseball games; where DJs such as Wolfman Jack along the U.S.Mexico border, Larry Lujack in Chicago, Alan Freed in Cleveland, “Cousin Brucie” Morrow in New York City and Don Imus in California, Texas, Ohio and New York howled, growled and shouted out the latest pop hits.

Through the snap and crackle of distant lightning and the hum of overhead power lines, AM radio’s sometimes-staticky signal dominated the country’s soundscape. From the 1950s into the 1970s, Top 40 hit music stations in many big cities maintained astonishing shares of the audience, with 50 percent and more of listeners tuned to a single station, meaning that people could walk along a city sidewalk and hear one station continuously blasting out of transistor radios, boomboxes and, above all, car radios.

But technology moved on, and the silky smooth sound of FM radio and then the crystal digital clarity of streaming stations and podcasts narrowed AM’s hold on the American imagination.

Now, although 82 million Americans still listen to AM stations each month, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, the AM audience has been aging for decades. Ford says its data, pulled from internet-connected vehicles, shows that less than 5 percent of in-car listening is to AM stations.

Ford spokesman Alan Hall said that because most AM stations also offer their programming online or on FM sister stations, the automaker will continue to “offer these alternatives for customers to hear their favorite AM radio music and news as we remove [AM] from most new and updated models.” The 2024 Mustang is Ford’s first internal combustion model to be marketed without AM.

Several big automakers, including Toyota and Honda, say they have no plans to eliminate AM radio, and General Motors, the nation’s top-selling carmaker, has not announced its intentions.

As Ford did, BMW eliminated AM from electric models in part because “technological innovation has afforded consumers many additional options to receive the same or similar information,” Adam McNeill, the company’s U.S. vice president of engineering, said in a letter to Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

But many AM stations don’t offer alternative ways to listen to their shows. Even those that do say their audience, much of which is older, tends not to be adept at the technologies that let drivers stream anything they choose from their smartphones into their car’s audio system. And despite the growing popularity of podcasts and streaming audio, a large majority of in-car listening remains old-fashioned broadcast radio, according to industry studies.

The removal of AM radio from cars — where about half of AM listening takes place — has sparked bipartisan protests. Some Democrats are fighting to save stations that often are the only live source of local information during extreme weather, as well as outlets that target immigrant audiences.Some Republicansmeanwhile, claim the elimination of AM radiois aimed at diminishing the reach of conservative talk radio, an AM mainstay from Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck to dozens of acolytes of the late Rush Limbaugh. Eight of the country’s 10 most popular radio talk shows are conservative. “The automobile is essential to liberty,” right-wing talk show host Mark Levin told his listeners last month. “It’s freedom. So the control of the automobile is about the control of your freedom. They finally figured out how to attack conservative talk radio.”

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. One of the things I find most annoying about my son’s Tesla is the lack of an AM radio. I would never buy a car without an AM radio. I have been buying BMWs for over 50 years, but never again.

  2. I rely on AM radio for traffic reports in the busy Bay Area. Yes I have GPS but KCBS Traffic is always great, plus, people can call KCBS to report traffic issues. KCBS also broadcasts on FM but FM stations do not have anything near the range of their AM station. I wouldn’t buy any car without an AM radio. If someone gave me one as a gift, I’d install an AM radio in it.

  3. Really??? says

    Carrie is right.

    Here is the other item that is a safety item. AM has better carry in broadcast, is easier to set up in emergencies……

    Did some digging…… there is a move to push digital radio. FM is easier to convert….. So do away with a long range capable broadcast in favor of a system that is less capable. But then again this is part of government trying to box in and control society at all levels.

    By the way ever watch digital TV that starts breaking up? That is what you will have if analog radio goes away.

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