Is AM Radio Doomed Because of Electric Cars?
AM radio could be heading toward extinction after a century of service as car manufacturers stop offering the service in their electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles create more electromagnetic interference than their gas-powered counterparts, causing more static, noise and humming on AM signals than FM signals, The New York Times reports. The interference has led several car manufacturers — including Tesla, Audi, Porsche, Volvo and Volkswagen — to remove AM radio from their electric models.
"Rather than frustrate customers with inferior reception and noise, the decision was made to leave it off vehicles that feature eDrive technology," BMW said in a statement regarding its electric cars.
Introduced in the 1920s, AM remains in operation because transmissions travel farther than FM, it's often cheaper to operate and it remains popular among older radio listeners. Roughly 47 million Americans — 20% of the listening public — use the format, with listening times increasing slightly over the last five years to just over two hours per day. Of those listeners, roughly one-third are 65 or older.
Although AM stations can still be accessed via apps, a drop in direct listeners could make the format financially unsustainable. Ron January, operations manager at Alabama-based station WATV-AM, said the loss of AM receivers could be a "killer" move, explaining that "most of our listening audience is in the morning drive and afternoon drive, when people are going to work and coming from work — and if we’re not there in their car, we're nonexistent."
Diane Newman, operations and brand manager at WWL in New Orleans, argued that the service remains essential in rural areas. "You take away AM radios in cars and you take away a lifeline, a connection when the community needs you most," she said.
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) advocated to keep AM radio in electric vehicles in a letter sent to 20 manufacturers this month. "Despite innovations such as the smartphone and social media, AM / FM broadcast radio remains the most dependable, cost-free, and accessible communication mechanism for public officials to communicate with the public during times of emergency," he wrote. "As a result, any phaseout of broadcast AM radio could pose a significant communication problem during emergencies."
Others worry that the removal of AM radio from electric vehicles could mark the beginning of a slippery slope that sees more terrestrial radio formats falling by the wayside. "If radio disappears out of cars, that would be really devastating," said Nola Daves Moses, distribution director at Native American radio network Native Voice One. "Is this a first step? Is FM next?"