An acquaintance of mine recently said he would never buy an all-electric vehicle and gave a reason I had never heard of before. “They don’t come with AM radio,” he said.
Although it surprised me, changing technological preferences have indeed begun to change the way automobiles and broadcasters interact. For example, a group of Mazda owners found their vehicles jammed on national public radio in February after a local station transmitted an FM data packet that effectively froze the cars’ infotainment system in the middle of switching to next-generation broadband services. This transition has already caused some interesting problems for the industry and EMI has also become the default explanation for car manufacturers limiting your choice of frequency band in some vehicles. But that doesn’t explain why some companies are abandoning AM radio altogether. In fact, a little research has shown that many of the explanations given by manufacturers leave a lot to be desired.
My not-quite-friend said he became aware of AM radio after browsing the all-electric Porsche Taycan and a few Tesla models – none of which offered an AM receiver. While I was absolutely certain I had driven EVs equipped with them in the past and was relatively confident, that included at least one Tesla model.
After some light research, I learned that Tesla actually discontinued AM radio in 2018, citing static electricity from electromagnetic interference created by electric motors. BMW and Porsche used similar reasoning to explain why the feature was removed from their electric vehicles. But the situation does not seem universal since American manufacturers have retained the possibility of listening to AM radio on their all-electric products. Interestingly, many companies that have dropped the 550 to 1720 kHz bandwidth offer other ways to listen to AM frequencies. But this usually requires additional expenses. For example, Tesla will allow drivers to connect if they subscribe to its Premium Connectivity service.
While it’s rather curious that many companies that pioneered subscription locks for features already installed (e.g. BMW now charges customers a subscription for heated seats and steering wheels in some markets) have streamlined their radio options, it is absolutely true that AM frequencies do tend to be more vulnerable to electromagnetic interference. Although affordable to broadcast and able to travel long distances, AM radio is often accompanied by static electricity and therefore more susceptible to storms, nearby power lines, and even solar activity. However, anything powerful enough to completely cancel out an incoming broadcast is likely to create problems for your phone and FM radio as well.
Digging deeper, I found a recent report of The reader exploring the same issue, which explored why European manufacturers might be more inclined to abandon AM radio for reasons other than opening the door to new ways of charging their customers. Noting that Audi, BMW, Porsche, Tesla and Volvo are now frequently sold without AM radio, the outlet suggested the format simply isn’t as popular in the EU anymore.
Of The reader:
We reached out to the Detroit Three to find out why they continue to include AM radios when some European brands have removed them, but the answer falls on those same lines. AM radio has fallen out of favor in Europe, with radio info reporting in 2015 that stations were closing en masse from France to the Netherlands and Russia. The frequency has largely been replaced by the DAB format, which is a more advanced form of radio broadcasting with better audio quality and a better choice of stations. AM radio stations and their listeners have all but disappeared in Europe, so European car manufacturers may not need to include technology that many of their customers cannot use.
In the United States, by contrast, the radio remains a staple for car buyers, with 89% of respondents to a 2021 survey saying radio should be standard in new cars. This makes the radio even more important to US car buyers than USB ports, which only 84% said were needed. AM audiences were declining rapidly according to a 2017 report by Inside Radio, but not enough to cause US automakers to drop AM radios out of their products. It’s also not hard to see why AM fits here: AM signals travel farther than FM broadcasts and are cheaper to transmit, allowing them to meet the needs of audiences in sparsely populated areas. The audio quality can’t be compared, but that’s secondary to having anything to listen to in parts of the continental United States.
Having done more long, lonely trips than most, I’ve sometimes turned to AM radio when there’s nothing good on satellite or FM stations and I’m tired of my own playlists personal. Often conversation-focused, the former group offers a mix of multilingual news channels, 24-hour weather shows, traffic updates, church services, political talk and even weird stations. hackers. There are at least 6,000 unique AM broadcasters in operation today compared to the approximately 15,000 commercial outlets that exist on FM frequencies. And that’s perhaps indicative of the waning popularity of older spectrum, as is the fact that I didn’t even realize radio functionality was being dropped from newer models (usually electric or hybrid) offered by companies specific until very recently.
The good news for AM lovers is that most of these channels can still be found on simulcast HD stations or even streamed directly over the Internet. So even if you buy a car that doesn’t have an AM radio, you should still be able to find all but the smallest outlets by other means. Still, there’s a chance that some of these weird, ultra-remote, private stations will become organically impossible to find, further limiting the overall reach of AM radio over time.
[Image: Virrage Images/Shutterstock]
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