Cutting AM from EVs is just the beginning, ag radio owners say
Former FEMA leaders consider AM an integral part of the emergency alert system -- something that should not be removed from the newest electric vehicles.
Static is what you might hear if you try to listen to AM radio in an electric vehicle. That’s not the case with all EVs, as some automakers have figured out how to continue to offer the signal in their models, but a growing number, including the latest version of the Ford F-150 Lightning, are dropping AM radio, citing the interference issue as the reason.
And in early March it was also reported that Ford will not have AM radio in their gas-powered 2024 Mustang, either. In that case it’s not an interference issue, rather the “decision is tied to a 'modernizing' effort that prioritizes streaming, FM signal, and digital media,” according to an article in The Drive.
The AM band in particular is subject to electromagnetic interference from electric motors, which generate frequencies comparable in wavelength to AM radio signals, according to an article in Auto Week.
But that's not the case in a non-EV. The fear is that the trend is to slowly remove AM radio from the dashboard and eventually other areas. That's the concern of Red River Farm Network President Don Wick.
"To me this whole thing is frankly pretty frustrating," Wick said. "Frankly we're spending thousands and thousands of dollars to deal with climate issues in these vehicles, but they don't want to spend a few pennies to update some things to make sure the AM radio signal works right."
Wick being the president of a radio network that has 21 radio affiliates (12 being AM stations) across the Dakotas and Minnesota and being involved in radio for the last 40 years gives him reason to fight for AM radio's existence. In his work, he knows the importance of radio to the farming community remains high.
Wick says the move to do away with AM is a good way to turn away the rural consumer. He said the news, market and weather information is something they come to depend on hearing every day and for some, the best place to do that is on the AM dial.
"Farmers are huge consumers of radio, just because of the nature of their business," Wick adds. "Radio lives and breathes when you've got a wheel in your hand. When you're behind the wheel of a pickup, or in the tractor cab or combine. Farmers spend a large majority of their day ... with that AM radio. It's an important tool."
Brian Winnekins, owner and farm director at REEL Country 1430 AM , part of the Wisconsin Radio Network in Durand, Wisconsin, is calling on consumers to make automakers aware if they want to continue to see AM radio in their vehicles.
"If consumers complain, and enough do, they'll listen," Winnekins said.
He fears the move from AM will eventually lead to FM's demise and allow online streaming services by subscription to become the only option. For example, he said unlike TV manufacturers, who continue to design smart TVs with an over the air antenna jack, some automakers are taking away the option altogether.
"What Ford has done is, you don't get that choice," Winnekins said Tuesday, March 14.
He suggests that consumers not go to dealerships to complain, but to automakers and let them know if AM and FM radio is important to them. He said the next three to four months are key as automakers are making decisions on what will be included features in the vehicle lineups.
The decisions by automakers are getting attention from those in emergency management positions as well.
A letter from seven former FEMA leaders in February 2023, painted a picture of the future of automaking absent of AM radio as a hazard.
“Federal law mandates that FEMA always maintain its ability to deliver messages to the American people en masse,” according to their letter to Secretary Pete Buttigieg of the Department of Transportation. “Because of the great distances that its signal carries, and due to its resiliency during even the worst natural disasters, the success of the National Public Warning System hinges on the use of AM radio. However, should EV makers continue removing AM radios from their vehicles, this vital public safety system will no longer function as intended.”
Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Nathan Simington responded to the statement in agreement, saying, “I applaud the statement by FEMA leaders on the importance of AM radio for disaster response. As the FCC shares authority with FEMA for many aspects of our national emergency alerting systems, I underscore and affirm their concerns in the strongest possible terms. The issue of the continued inclusion of AM radios in electric vehicles deserves urgent attention.”
In the Red River Valley, AM radio remains a strong component of the overall platform for the stations owned by Flag Family Media in North Dakota, which includes WDAY (Fargo), KTGO (Tioga) and WZFG (Fargo). Flag Family president and managing partner Steve Hallstrom said when people wake to a snowstorm, they turn on their radios to get insight on weather and what it meant for their day and commute.
“These are stations that you find on the AM dial, and when the blizzards come or the big news issues unfold, people turn to talk radio because we’re continually updating and discussing in a way your social media app can’t match,” Hallstrom said. “AM radio gives a larger coverage area than the typical FM signal and many farmers and ranchers rely on AM radio."
In an emergency, those long waves that AM radio produces can reach rural areas, that FM can’t match.
Wick quantifies those long waves when he mentions KSJB 600 AM in Jamestown, North Dakota. It's one of the affiliates of the RRFN, and its signal can be heard clearly across, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Canada. It's a free, clear, over-the-air radio signal that's accessible to anyone driving through or firmly planted.
Winnekins repeats that a move away from AM doesn't just mean radio pivots to FM. Some FM stations rely on the AM station, and once either of those stations disappears, "there's no getting it back," he said.
"If my AM goes away, so does the FM," Winnekins said.
"Over 76% of farmers are using over the air radio," Winnekins said. He said in the past, over 50% of farmers use AM radio.
Radio remains in the ears of Americans. According to a 2018 Nielsen study, 93% of adults in the United States listen to FM or AM radio weekly. According to the Federal Communication Commission there are 60 AM stations serving North Dakota, 203 serving Minnesota; and 62 in South Dakota.