December 5th, 2023

The Cultcha?

Lawmakers convene hearing on AM radio phaseout

Cristiano Lima & David DiMolfetta

By Cristiano Lima & David DiMolfetta The Washington Post

Published May 24, 2023

Lawmakers convene hearing on AM radio phaseout
Major automakers are eliminating AM radio from new vehicles, arguing the antiquated system is unnecessary and is incompatible with electric engines.

But House lawmakers will convene a hearing in early June to discuss the importance of keeping AM radio in cars, committee spokespeople confirmed exclusively to The Technology 202.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and ranking Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) will hear testimony from public safety experts about why they think AM radio is still essential for vehicles.

The hearing comes as lawmakers in both the House and Senate sound the alarm on AM radio being phased out, a move they say could prevent Americans from receiving public emergency notifications and stifle political discourse.

AM radio was popular through the 1960s and '70s, but once FM radio came on the scene, it was able to provide better audio quality at the cost of transmitting across a shorter distance.


The debate has made unlikely alliances, as lawmakers argue that AM is a crucial service that can reach Americans in life or death situations when FM or other transmission methods fail.

A bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced last week would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue a rule requiring carmakers to keep AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate payment or fee.

It also requires automakers selling cars without AM radio before the effective date to disclose that AM is not present.

The bill, titled the AM for Every Vehicle Act, has endorsement from Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), as well as Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Tom Kean Jr. (R-N.J.).

It also has endorsements from Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Commissioner Nathan Simington, who call it a "clear public safety imperative."

"AM radio plays an essential role in our communities, especially during public emergencies when other alert systems that rely on the electric grid and cellphone networks may not work. I'm looking forward to the Energy and Commerce Committee holding a hearing on this important matter soon," Pallone said in a statement to The Technology 202.

Republicans have also argued that popular conservative talk shows that rely on AM airwaves could suffer from the phaseout. Eight of the country's 10 most popular radio talk shows are conservative, as our colleague Marc Fisher previously reported.

AM radio has largely been discontinued in electric vehicles made by companies like Tesla, Ford, BMW, Mazda and Volkswagen on the grounds that the motors in those vehicles create electromagnetic frequencies on the same wavelength as AM radio and could lead to interference. Automakers also argue that AM's phaseout trends with the population that grew up with AM: one that is getting smaller and older.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an automaker trade group, has previously said that AM mandates are unnecessary and that the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System can be transmitted across AM, FM and other types of radio, as well as cellular networks in case of an emergency.

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in February wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg arguing that the United States should seek assurances from automobile manufacturers to keep AM in new cars.

"AM radio plays an essential role in our communities, especially during public emergencies, and we look forward to hearing from public safety experts about the importance of ensuring this continues to be a resource for Americans," McMorris Rodgers said in a statement to The Technology 202.