For nearly 100 years, drivers have been listening to AM radio, an American institution crackling with news, traffic, weather, sports and an eclectic number of other programs.
But that dashboard staple might be going the best way of manual-crank windows and automobile ashtrays as electric vehicles begin to grab more of the American marketplace.
An increasing number of electrical models have dropped AM radio in what broadcasters call a worrisome shift that would spell trouble for the stations and deprive drivers of an important source of stories in emergencies.
Carmakers say that electric vehicles generate more electromagnetic interference than gas-powered cars, which may disrupt the reception of AM signals and cause static, noise and a high-frequency hum. (FM signals are more proof against such interference.)
“Quite than frustrate customers with inferior reception and noise, the choice was made to depart it off vehicles that feature eDrive technology,” BMW said in a press release, referring to the system that powers its electric vehicles.
Tesla, Audi, Porsche and Volvo have also removed AM radio from their electric vehicles, as has Volkswagen from its electric S.U.V., ID.4, in keeping with the carmakers and the National Association of Broadcasters. Ford said that the 2023 F-150 Lightning, its popular electric pickup truck, would also drop AM radio.
Some experts say the reception problems are usually not insurmountable. Electromagnetic interference might be controlled with shielding cables, filters and careful placement of the electrical components within the vehicle, said Pooja Nair, a communications systems engineer on the entertainment technology company Xperi Inc., which owns HD Radio technology.
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But such changes require money and energy, and it’s not clear whether carmakers are willing to spend more within the service of AM radio fans. The Drive, a automobile news site that has reported on the trend, noted that AM radio has lost favor in Europe, so carmakers there might see less of a must keep it.
If more electric vehicles drop AM radio, some broadcasters say they might lose a connection to their core listeners.
“It’s a killer for us because most of our listening audience is within the morning drive and afternoon drive, when persons are going to work and coming from work — and if we’re not there of their automobile, we’re nonexistent,” said Ron January, operations manager at WATV-AM, an adult contemporary station in Birmingham, Ala.
About 47 million Americans take heed to AM radio, representing about 20 percent of the radio-listening public, in keeping with the Nielsen Company, the media tracking firm. AM listeners are likely to be older than other radio listeners (about one-third are over 65), and the period of time they spend listening to AM has increased barely during the last five years, to only over two hours a day, Nielsen reported.
Regardless that some AM stations have translators that send duplicate broadcasts over the FM airwaves, AM signals travel farther and reach more people. AM stations may also be inexpensive than FM stations to operate, allowing some to supply programming geared toward specific religious, cultural or other communities.
Brian Winnekins, the owner of WRDN in Durand, Wis., which has seven hours of farm-related programming available every weekday on AM and FM, said he has been urging listeners to inform carmakers to not drop AM, noting that it may reach farmers in distant areas.
“In case you could make a vehicle drive by itself,” Mr. Winnekins said, referring to the driver-assistance systems in Teslas and other vehicles, “you possibly can make a good radio receiver.”
Nola Daves Moses, distribution director at Native Voice One, which distributes Native American radio programs, including some in Indigenous languages, said she hoped that more Americans would switch to electric vehicles.
But “if radio disappears out of cars, that might be really devastating,” she said. “Is that this a primary step? Is FM next?”
In a letter to twenty automobile manufacturers published on Dec. 1, Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, requested that they keep AM radio in electric vehicles, describing it as a difficulty of public safety.
“Despite innovations resembling the smartphone and social media, AM/FM broadcast radio stays probably the most dependable, cost-free, and accessible communication mechanism for public officials to speak with the general public during times of emergency,” Mr. Markey wrote. “Consequently, any phaseout of broadcast AM radio could pose a major communication problem during emergencies.”
Many AM broadcasters say their stations’ news reports are the quickest way for drivers to seek out out about tornadoes, flash floods and other severe weather. Diane Newman, operations and brand manager at WWL in Recent Orleans, said that in Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, the station carried vital details about rescue and recovery efforts.
“There was no Wi-Fi; there have been no phone connections,” Ms. Newman said, adding, “You are taking away AM radios in cars and you are taking away a lifeline, a connection when the community needs you most.”
Carmakers noted that drivers can still stream AM radio on apps and never all electric vehicles have dropped it. Hyundai, which makes electric vehicles, said in a press release that it had no plans to phase out AM radio. And a few observers say the threat from electric vehicles could also be overblown.
“The challenge for AM’s survival could also be more about broader demographics than autos,” said Michael Stamm, a cultural historian at Michigan State University who studies media. “Do younger people care about AM in any respect, in cars or otherwise?”
Not all young drivers have moved away from AM radio.
“AM is where you get the data,” said Alex Cardenas-Acosta, 34, a Saab driver who works at an auto repair shop in Union, N.J. Like many who drive gas-powered cars, he was unaware that some electric vehicles had dropped AM radio. Mr. Cardenas-Acosta said he listens to the Mets on the transmission.
“I don’t think it must be taken away,” he said. “If you would like to find something serious, as an alternative of all that crap they’ve on FM, you switch on AM.”
Outside a Tesla dealership in Springfield, N.J., several Tesla owners said they weren’t terribly bothered by the shortage of AM radio. The corporate began phasing it out several years ago, prompting a 2018 headline in The Wall Street Journal, “Your Tesla Can Go Zero to 60 in 2.5 Seconds But Can’t Get AM Radio.”
Brandon Utrera, 27, said he hadn’t noticed that the Tesla Model Y he bought five days earlier didn’t have AM radio. “The one time I actually take heed to AM radio is when the Yankees are on,” he said.
Mr. Utrera said his parents take heed to it greater than he does, although he couldn’t remember the station. “It’s for the old-timers,” he said.