Can AM Radio Survive the EV Revolution?

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Video may have killed the radio star, but EVs are destroying all of AM radio.

Carmakers like Tesla and BMW are increasingly omitting the talk-radio frequencies from their vehicles, and, on Tuesday, a slew of AM radio executives stepped off their preferred live-studio soapbox and into the halls of Congress to make the case for why FM radio’s tamer, nerdier cousin still deserves to be heard.

Airing of Grievances

To be clear, AM radio has been on the decline for decades. Although the frequency once accounted for over half of all radio listening hours, that stopped being true… all the way back in 1978, according to the FCC. And today, only 15% of people older than 12 listen to AM radio at least once a week, according to Nielsen data seen by Bloomberg, down from 34% in 2000.

But 82 million Americans still tune in every month, according to Nielsen. And that’s enough for a bipartisan push in Congress to keep AM alive, even if Elon Musk — and science — would argue otherwise:

  • Both Tesla and BMW have slashed AM radio from dashboards, saying EV’s new-world electromagnetic waves clash with the old-world tech’s frequencies — and allowing both systems to coexist would be costly and disruptive.
  • AM radio executives, and lawmakers supporting the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act, say it still nonetheless provides an important communication function for many Americans, thanks especially to its role in US emergency information systems.

“When the power goes out and cell networks are down, the car radio is often the only way for people to get information, sometimes for days at a time,” Jerry Chapman, president of midwest AM radio network Woof Boom Radio, said in his witness testimony at the US House committee hearing Tuesday. All five people in the world who have sat in their cars glued to the radio during a blackout no doubt nodded in agreement.