AM radio staying on the dial in Ford’s 2024 models
Image credit: Foto 118233783 © Rowan Patrick | Dreamstime.com
Amid ongoing concerns about AM radio's future - both in-car and elsewhere - lawmakers in the US are pressuring automakers to include the long-range transmission technology in all vehicles' entertainment consoles as standard.
In a U-turn, Ford has confirmed that AM radio will be included on all of its 2024 models and that it will restore the AM service to two of its electric models for 2023.
Writing on Twitter yesterday (Tuesday), Ford CEO Jim Farley wrote: "After speaking with policy leaders about the importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system, we've decided to include it on all 2024 @Ford & @LincolnMotorCo [sic] vehicles. For any owners of Ford EVs without AM broadcast capability, we’ll offer a software update.
"Customers can currently listen to AM radio content in a variety of ways in our vehicles – including via streaming – and we will continue to innovate to deliver even better in-vehicle entertainment and emergency notification options in the future".
Farley said the reversal on its earlier decision to scotch AM from Ford car radios came about after conversations with government policy leaders, who expressed concerns about being able to reliably broadcast the emergency alerts that are often sounded via AM radio stations, e.g. to warn of impending natural disasters.
AM radio coverage in many countries - particularly the US - is near-total, coast to coast, unlike cellular coverage which is much spottier and susceptible to outages.
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers also introduced a bill to Congress today (Wednesday) calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require AM in new vehicles at no additional cost.
Sponsors of the 'AM for Every Vehicle Act' cited the same public safety concerns as those shared with Ford and AM radio's ability and importance in reaching people in even the most remote and rural areas.
It was noted that a number of major automakers have already dropped the AM band from their car radios, including Ford, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Tesla.
In a statement introducing the bill, Democrat Senator Ed Markey wrote: “Ford’s reversal reflects an overdue realisation about the importance of AM radio, but too many automakers are still going [in] the wrong direction.”
Republican Senator Josh Gottheimer, also a sponsor of the Act, said in a statement: "When the cell phone runs out, the internet gets cut off, or the television doesn't work because of no electricity or power to your house, you can still turn on your AM radio."
Ford removed AM from the 2023 Mustang Mach-e and F-150 Lightning electric pickups after data collected from vehicles showed that less than 5 per cent of customers listened to it, company spokesman Alan Hall said. Electrical interference and reducing cost and manufacturing complexity also allegedly played a role in Ford's decision.
The company had also taken AM radio out of the 2024 gasoline-powered Mustang, but will add it back in before any of the cars are delivered, Hall said.
Ford's EVs will get an online software update to put AM back into the vehicles and the company will keep including it in future vehicles while it looks at alternative ways to deliver emergency alerts, Hall said.
Automakers have suggested that internet radio or other communication tools could replace AM radio, but the opposition's argument is that there will always be situations where a driver might not have internet access.
Although broadly welcomed - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Association of Broadcasters both praised the prospective legislation - the trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents major automakers including Ford and BMW, criticised the bill as unnecessary.
According to the National Association of Broadcasters and Nielsen data, more than 80 million people in the US listen to AM radio every month.
Although often lo-fi and crackly in reception - due in part to electromagnetic interference, and especially in a vehicle in motion - the AM band remains a popular radio home for local news and weather channels, sportscasts, talk shows and impassioned, often partisan political debate; one aspect of the AM story that may partially explain the Republican skewing of the bill's sponsors, who include Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Some conservative commentators and show hosts have expressed concern about losing a crucial right-wing communications channel should AM radio be permanently switched off.
In the UK, the government's decision to switch off analogue radio signals and move exclusively to digital radio has been repeatedly bumped back over the course of the last decade or so.
Most recently, in April 2022, the government published its response to the 'Digital Radio and Audio Review', as commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in February 2020.
There had been a prevailing belief that once the the majority of radio listening was being enjoyed via a digital platform, according to consumer research, the transition to a digital-only radio service in the UK would follow.
However, in its 2022 response, the government acknowledged that "the rapid growth of connected audio devices over recent years has started to change the landscape for radio and audio services" and that now it would need to "consider a much broader range of issues - and not just whether sufficient progress had been made for the government to consider any potential switchover from AM and FM to DAB".
Ultimately, the conclusion was that "the time is not right for a formal switch-off of analogue radio services and that it would be precipitous to look to this happening before 2030 at the earliest."
AM's place on the radio dial remains secure, at least for now.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.