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Ford in reverse gear over AM radio removal after Congress threatens action

Surprise: Electronics was always there. Cars lacking button for the band just need a software update, says CEO

In the wake of a potential congressional mandate, one automaker is reversing course and adding the AM radio dial back to its dashboards.

Ford Motor Company announced the move through its CEO Jim Farley in a tweet yesterday in which he acknowledged the airing of a bill [PDF] in the US Senate last week that would require AM radios be included in all automobiles sold in America. 

The proposed law would mandate AM radios due to the vital role that frequency band has in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's national public warning system, which broadcasts alerts via AM stations. 

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who introduced the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act, has been railing against plans by eight automakers to eliminate AM radios from their vehicles since earlier this year, when he said that BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo responded to letters confirming their intention.

"Broadcast AM radio is an essential part of our emergency alert infrastructure, but the responses to my letter show that far too many automakers are ignoring the critical safety benefits of AM radio," Markey said in March, prior to the introduction of the bill last week. Backed by a bipartisan group of senators, the AM Radio act would require the inclusion of AM receivers at no additional charge to buyers, and would impose civil penalties on any company not complying. 

Those threats appear to be working.

"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 & Lincoln vehicles," Farley said. The chief exec's tweet continued with an interesting tidbit: the ability for the cars to receive AM signals never went away – it was simply disabled.

"For any owners of Ford EVs without AM broadcast capability, we'll offer a software update," Farley said. 

Rivian, meanwhile, told us it "offers free access to AM and FM radio services in all Rivian consumer vehicles that come standard in each vehicle. AM radio service from local and national stations is provided via digital radio platforms (thus ensuring enhanced audio quality.)"

Along with being used to broadcast emergency messages, AM radio is also used across the US as the broadcasting system of choice for talk radio, news, sports, and the like. Automakers have moved to eliminate AM radio from their vehicles, more specifically from EVs, supposedly because electric motors potentially make AM signal quality worse than it already is.

Well, be as that may, it's probably also because they think AM radio is falling out of style and no longer has a place in modern cars.

Markey applauded Ford's move to return AM radio to its vehicles, saying it reflects that Ford, at the very least, has had "an overdue realization about the importance of AM radio … [it] is more than just an essential safety feature—it's a free, accessible source for anyone to listen to music, news, sports, and entertainment."

We asked Senator Markey's office whether he'd heard from any of the other automakers he called out for removing AM radio, and its response didn't address that or other questions we asked. We also contacted the automakers on the supposedly anti-AM train that Markey identified, and heard back from BMW, which told us it would make a decision if and when the bill is passed. ®

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