As AM radio gradually fades into irrelevance, a bipartisan bill has been introduced by lawmakers requiring carmakers to keep including AM radio in vehicles.
The question is why.
Backers of the AM for Every Vehicle Act, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, say AM is crucial for emergency alerts, especially in rural areas.
“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,” Cruz said in a statement.
“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,” he said, tipping his hand about the broader agenda possibly at work here.
AM radio has long taken a back seat to FM and, increasingly, satellite radio and streaming services.
Ford told the Washington Post that less than 5% of listening by its drivers was to AM stations.
Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Tesla, Volvo and Mazda have either discontinued or plan to end AM radio in certain vehicles.
The thing is, AM is host to much right-wing talk and religious programming.
It’s not a stretch to say the new legislation is intended, at least in part, to protect a platform favored by, as Cruz put it, “alternative viewpoints.”
Sean Hannity, whose syndicated radio show is carried primarily on AM stations, said last month that getting rid of AM in vehicles constitutes a “direct hit” to conservatives.
“I think people want more options, not less options,” he said. “And this would be a direct hit politically on conservative talk radio in particular, which is what most people go to AM radio to listen to.”
Which is to say, conservatives don’t want to see any move — no matter how warranted by changing tastes and technologies — that would limit their ability to reach audiences.
As such, its seems probable that, should the AM for Every Vehicle Act become law, carmakers would challenge the measure in court.
Emergency alerts are one thing. Being required to provide access to specific programming is something else.