In a future of electric cars, AM radio may be left behind
For nearly 100 years, drivers have been listening to AM radio, an American institution crackling with news, traffic, weather, sports and an eclectic variety of other programs. But that dashboard staple could be going the way of manual-crank windows and car ashtrays as electric vehicles begin to grab more of the American marketplace.
An increasing number of electric models have dropped AM radio in what broadcasters call a worrisome shift that could spell trouble for the stations and deprive drivers of a crucial source of news in emergencies. Carmakers say that electric vehicles generate more electromagnetic interference than gas-powered cars, which can disrupt the reception of AM signals and cause static, noise and a high-frequency hum. (FM signals are more resistant to such interference.) “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, 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, according to 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 not insurmountable. Electromagnetic interference could be controlled with shielding cables, filters and careful placement of the electrical components in the vehicle, said Pooja Nair, a communications systems engineer at the entertainment technology company Xperi Inc., which owns HD Radio technology. But such changes require money and effort, and it’s not clear whether carmakers are willing to spend more in the service of AM radio fans. The Drive, a car 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 need to keep it.
If more electric vehicles drop AM radio, some broadcasters say they could lose a connection to their core listeners.
“It’s a killer for us because 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,” said Ron January, operations manager at WATV-AM, an adult contemporary station in Birmingham, Ala.
About 47 million Americans listen to AM radio, representing about 20 percent of the radio-listening public, according to the Nielsen Company, the media tracking firm. AM listeners tend to be older than other radio listeners (about one-third are over 65), and the amount of time they spend listening to AM has increased slightly over the last five years, to just over two hours a day, Nielsen reported.
Even though some AM stations have translators that send duplicate broadcasts over the FM airwaves, AM signals travel farther and reach more people. AM stations can also be less expensive than FM stations to operate, allowing some to offer programming geared toward specific religious, cultural or other communities.