Congress Fights to Retain AM Radio in New Cars: Underscoring the Lifeline for Older Adults and Emergency News and Information

Congress is advocating for the continued inclusion of AM radio in new vehicles, recognizing its crucial role for older adults. As an essential source of news, emergency updates, and entertainment, AM radio remains a lifeline for this demographic, especially amid a rapidly digitizing world.

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Congress Fights to Retain AM Radio in New Cars: Underscoring the Lifeline for Older Adults and Emergency News and Information
5 Min Read May 18th, 2023 Updated:May 24th, 2023

Many people take their ability to find their favorite radio station on their car radio for granted. While today's vehicles have many entertainment options to choose from, AM and FM radio still become the primary entertainment choice for many Americans. Perhaps more importantly, local radio becomes a lifeline for many people when local or regional emergencies occur, including severe weather.

In recent years, some auto manufacturers have begun eliminating AM radio from their vehicles. There are several reasons for this; however, manufacturers have multiple entertainment choices to include in their vehicles, and newer electric vehicles require extra work to protect the radio receiver from interference that impact AM radio.

AM radio still provides valuable programming that also appeals to older adults. In many places in the United States, AM radio stations often have local and regional news, play-by-play of local sports, including the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, and other programming not always available on FM. In addition, AM radio stations, with their large coverage area, provide an essential part of national security in the event of an emergency. 

Source of Local News and Weather Information

AM radio continues to be an important source of information and entertainment, and its elimination will make it more difficult for many people to stay informed and entertained while driving. In addition, some argue that the elimination of AM radio is a sign of the decline of traditional media and that it is a further step towards a world where local information gets buried by national information. Plus, some say that if the trend continues, people will only be exposed to information and entertainment approved by large corporations.

Congress is now addressing the national security aspect of AM radio. The "AM for Every Vehicle Act" would require federal regulators to mandate AM radio in new vehicles without an additional charge.

This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and J.D. Vance (R-OH), and Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5), Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4), Tom Kean, Jr. (R-NJ-7), Rob Menendez (D-NJ-8), and Maria Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA-3) would ensure that automakers maintain access to AM broadcast radio in their vehicles.

The bill would:

  • Direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue a rule that requires automakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate or additional payment, fee, or surcharge;
  • Require any automaker that sells vehicles without access to AM broadcast radio before the effective date of the NHTSA rule to clearly disclose to consumers that the vehicle lacks access to AM broadcast radio; and,
  • Direct the Government Accountability Office to study whether alternative communication systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of AM broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergencies.

Wide Support

The legislation has garnered support from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington, particularly following the decision by automakers such as BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo to eliminate AM radio from their electric vehicles.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5), the lead House sponsor of the legislation, says the importance of AM radio during large-scale emergencies cannot be underestimated. AM radio, he says, has, without a doubt and without interruption, saved lives and kept our communities informed. 

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. I'm proud to introduce the bipartisan AM for Every Vehicle Act in the House to ensure that all auto manufacturers include AM radio in their vehicles to protect public safety.

Rep. Gottheimer pointed out that if Elon Musk, who owns Telsa, which has eliminated AM radio from their vehicles, can send rockets to space can keep AM radio in cars.

I would think that if Elon Musk has enough money to buy Twitter and send rockets to space, he can afford to include AM radio in his Teslas. Instead, Elon Musk and Tesla, and other car manufacturers are putting public safety and emergency response at risk.

Radio Audience Still Large – Especially with Older Adults

The radio audience for adults 50+ in the United States is substantial, with about 114.9 million adults 50+ using radio each month, with 91% of adults 50+ being reached monthly by radio. In many markets in the United States, AM radio stations are still in the top ten in audience reach, with some markets having an AM radio station in the top three in audience ratings. Radio is one of the most powerful mediums in the United States, with a weekly reach of around 82.5% among adults, with news/talk stations among the most-listened-to radio formats in the United States.

Older adults are more impacted by the potential loss of AM radio stations since their interest in local and regional news and events tends to be higher for them than younger people. In addition, the older someone is, the less likely they will embrace new media technology compared to younger people. Plus, adults over age 50 grew up and still listen to AM radio stations in greater numbers.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4) states that the proposed legislation safeguards AM broadcast radio and its essential services. It does so by mandating that new vehicles maintain the inclusion of AM radio and forbids automakers from levying additional costs or surcharges that might inhibit Americans from availing of these crucial services in their vehicles.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) emphasized the importance of AM radio, saying that it has served as a crucial tool in emergencies and a vital source of news, weather, sports, and entertainment for numerous listeners over many years. He expressed his pride in proposing the bill to ensure this resilient and popular communication tool does not become obsolete.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) echoed this sentiment, highlighting AM radio's significant role in democracy and its platform for diverse viewpoints. He encouraged swift congressional action to pass the bill, guaranteeing continued access to this vital information source for Americans.

Each day, millions of Americans turn to AM radio to stay up to date on life in their community, engage on the issues they care about, or to be simply entertained during rush hour. AM radio is a critical bulwark for democracy, providing a platform for alternative viewpoints and the ability for elected officials to share our efforts with our constituents. Congress should act swiftly to pass this bill so Americans retain access to news, music, talk, and emergency alerts on the public airwaves. I’m glad to work with Sen. Markey on this bipartisan legislation to ensure carmakers do not limit Texans’ access to radio in their vehicles.

Curtis LeGeyt, NAB President, praised the legislators involved for their advocacy on behalf of AM radio listeners. He underscored the importance of the medium for delivering news, entertainment, and critical safety information, while also serving as the Emergency Alert System's backbone. He applauded the legislation's supporters for acknowledging the crucial role of AM radio in national public safety infrastructure.

The current list of co-sponsors of this bill are:

  • House of Representatives:
    • Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5), lead sponsor
    • Tom Kean Jr. (R-NJ-7), co-lead
    • Rob Menendez (D-NJ-8), co-lead
    • Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4), co-lead
    • Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA-3), co-lead
  • Senate:
    • Edward J. Markey (D-MA), lead sponsor
    • Ted Cruz (R-TX), lead sponsor
    • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), original co-sponsor
    • Deb Fischer (R-NE), original co-sponsor
    • Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), original co-sponsor
    • J.D. Vance (R-OH), original co-sponsor
    • Roger Wicker (R-MS), original co-sponsor
    • Bob Menendez (D-NJ), original co-sponsor

Many older adults also have AM radios and listen to radio stations at home and in the car. The important access to local news, weather, sports and emergency information is vital for all Americans, but for many older adults it is a primary way they receive information.

Ford Reverses Decision


In a triumph for the "AM For Every Vehicle Act," the Ford Motor Company has withdrawn its previous decision to eliminate AM radio from its upcoming models. CEO Jim Farley confirmed on social media that all 2024 Ford and Lincoln gasoline and electric vehicles will feature AM radio. Furthermore, he announced a software update to reinstate AM functionality in electric Ford vehicles previously sold without this feature.

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