The early days of the horseless carriage, or car as we now call them, and AM radio were times of rapid innovation and experimentation. Battery systems can now power cars for far longer than ever before; electric vehicles (EVs) have gone from being a novelty to the future of the automotive industry, and AM radio, once the dominant form of entertainment in America until the 1950s, has quickly been replaced by other services, such as satellite radio, MP3 players, and Bluetooth® in cars.
AM radio has been around commercially since the early 1900s. It started to see a decline due to the increasing popularity of television and FM radio, which led to the development of format broadcasting. This meant that individual AM stations could air different programs, including regional and local news, sports, and talk radio instead of the same program broadcast over the country. While not as popular as it was during the “Golden Age of Radio,” AM radio stations are still used today.
This leads us today, where analog AM radio is facing another hurdle. AM radio, reliant on amplified medium radio waves, is experiencing frequency disruption from the electromagnetic emissions from electric motors. Many EV manufacturers have contemplated removing AM radio — some already have, such as Tesla, BMW, Mazda, and Ford — and the United States Congress is now trying to find solutions, given that AM radio is often used for transmitting emergency safety alerts since it’s resilient to natural disasters and cyber or nuclear attacks.
Car buyers interested in EVs may have a difficult decision to make on whether losing AM radio is something they’re comfortable with. While not as mainstream as it once was, AM radio is considered a great way to listen to local broadcasts and connect to one’s community, given the number of regional programs available on the frequencies. And, of course, not having a reliable place for emergency information is a concern, especially in areas susceptible to floods or tornadoes. While other means of accessing warnings are available, such as satellite radio, many of these require subscriptions and are not considered universally accessible.
Beyond legislation preventing its removal, several alternatives to preserve AM radio are available or being developed. Careful placement and design of an EV around the radio can help mitigate the interference, as can shielding or isolating the antenna. A new form of all-digital AM radio is also in development, and may allow EV owners to tune into their favorite radio stations with no interference.
Even though the fate of analog AM radio is known, there is still a demand for AM radio services — there are an estimated 82.3 million Americans who tune into 4,728 AM radio stations each month. AM radio has survived other technological hurdles in the past by adapting, such as FM radio, television, and internet streaming. Despite some auto manufacturers beginning to remove AM radio from their EVs, it may not affect these listeners, as the areas that benefit most from AM radio don’t currently have the infrastructure to support EVs anyway. As we look towards the future, auto manufacturers will be presented with an opportunity to expand their offerings to reach even more potential customers. By providing alternatives to AM radio in regions that rely on it, these manufacturers can tap into the immense potential of EV sales, giving them a chance to innovate and positively impact the industry.