Try Googling “Is AM radio dead?” and you will find a bounty of recent articles with dramatic headlines predicting the demise of AM radio in the vehicle dashboard; but, if you read deeper, there is much more — or perhaps less — to this story than meets the dramatic headlines. While the loud media buzz certainly reflects some understandable concerns about the future of AM broadcast radio, AM broadcast radio’s death is far from imminent.
Let’s start with why there is so much noise. Recently, some automakers — Tesla, BMW, Mazda and VW — announced plans to remove AM radios from their electric vehicles (EVs) citing issues around electric engines interfering with the quality of AM radio reception and fidelity. This is troubling if EVs dominated vehicle sales (and if there weren’t a solution — more on that later); but, although automakers have some aggressive EV targets, and EV sales are certainly on the rise, they still account for only about 7% of U.S. new vehicle sales and in 2030 are projected to make up 10% of the cars and light trucks expected to be on U.S. roads.
Then, this April, Ford, one of the Big Three automakers, added to the AM doom buzz when it announced it was dropping AM radio from its 2024 ICE and EV models. Consumers, broadcasters and Congressional representatives voiced the importance of AM radio and Ford re-considered that decision. Recently, Ford CEO Jim Farley announced that AM radio would remain in 2024 models. Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) urged those automakers who had already removed AM radio from their EVs to follow Ford’s lead. While none have, as of yet, announced any change of plans, it is encouraging that the other two Big Three automakers (GM and Stellantis) have announced no plans to remove AM radio from their vehicles’ dashboards, while keeping some product planning details confidential.
Finally, much of the chatter around the death of AM radio likely comes down to a lack of understanding of the importance of the medium, listener affinity with the programming and the important role AM radio broadcasters play in their communities. The truth is that AM/FM broadcast radio continues to be the most used audio feature in-vehicle, vastly outpacing all other audio sources.
At Xperi, we tend to tune out the doom buzz because we have no doubt AM radio will remain in the dash for a long time to come. Here are five key reasons why.
- AM broadcast radio is live, real-time, and local
Quite simply, AM radio’s live and local connection is priceless and irreplaceable. For tens of millions of vehicle drivers and passengers, AM radio is the everyday go-to for what is happening in real-time, whether a thunderstorm, a traffic jam, a breaking news or sports event (AM radio is still the primary outlet for live/local sports). Just one example of this is how indispensable a source of information AM radio is for America’s heartland: farmers. Nathan Simington of the Federal Communications Commission said, “To those who say AM is a dead technology, 75% of farmers listen to the radio five days per week.”
- Critical platform for emergency communications
AM radio plays an essential role in communicating local emergency/disaster information and this is why Congress is getting involved. Senator Edward J. Markey, who is leading the charge, says AM radio is irreplaceable: “In an emergency, drivers might not have access to the internet and could miss critical safety information.” Furthermore, he says, unlike FM radio, “AM radio operates at lower frequencies and longer wavelengths, enabling it to pass through solid objects and travel further than other radio waves…as a result, FEMA’s National Public Warning System — through which FEMA delivers critical safety alerts to the public — operates through broadcast AM radio stations.” And, unlike in Europe where country landmasses tend to be small, AM radio’s role in emergency situations is critical in areas with massive landmasses, such as the U.S., Canada and Australia, effectively distributing information to people in very remote locations.
- People keep tuning in across the globe
Across the globe, many people use AM radio — and this is backed up by facts. In the U.S., for example, AM radio reaches more than 82 million Americans each month, there are 27,000 licensed stations, and in 2020, 83% of Americans ages 12 and older listened to terrestrial radio in a given week. According to Edison Research, 90% of car buyers say broadcast radio should be standard in every vehicle and still commands the highest share of collective trust in advertising. Xperi survey data reinforces radio’s pre-eminence in the vehicle dash: Over 90% of vehicle owners say it is important to have radio in their dashboard, with 72% saying it is indispensable or very important, and AM/FM radio is the most used feature in-vehicle, far outpacing satellite radio and Apple CarPlay®: 72% versus 14% respectively.
- Digitization & modernization = AM radio on the road for today and tomorrow
Digital technology, such as HD Radio technology, can modernize audio for in-vehicle AM radio listeners, offering a solution to the band interference cited by EV manufacturers. It enhances broadcast, adding digital signals to the AM and FM frequencies licensed by the FCC, improving audio/sound quality across the board, deepening and enriching quality while providing a cleaner signal. This means that car drivers/passengers hear more of the original sound. It also provides broader options for content because it can receive all the analog broadcasts that exist as well as the 2,700 new digital audio services that have launched in North America. With massive digital penetration and the infrastructure to support it, AM broadcast radio has an embedded perch in the dashboard: 95 million cars are already on the road with HD Radio technology.
- AM radio is the voice of the people
AM radio reflects and gives voice to the people, especially minority and underserved audiences in major markets. Foreign language programming, local community services and religious organizations depend on AM radio to connect with their communities. At Xperi, we believe that silencing these voices by removing AM radio from the dash — or requiring new, expensive technologies for them to be heard — is out of pace with what communities want and need.
Conclusion: AM radio in the dash is here to stay… so long as it evolves
While the facts support AM radio’s longevity in the vehicle dashboard, there is no doubt that the broadcast industry is going through important reinventions and that AM radio must continue to evolve. Perhaps the most important question is not “Is AM radio dying?” but “How does broadcast radio as a whole keep pace in the connected car?” with today’s fragmenting media landscape and the consumer who wants the highest quality, most immersive infotainment — no matter where they are.
A global media platform that not only does not eliminate broadcast radio, but builds an audio – and visually-rich, personalized, in-vehicle infotainment experience around it could hold the key. But it must be built so that both automakers and broadcasters can continue to evolve and adapt, keeping AM and broadcast radio relevant so it can realize its fullest potential — remaining at the fingertips of the drivers and passengers of today and tomorrow.
 As reported at Inside EVs, May 2023: https://insideevs.com/news/667516/us-electric-car-sales-2023q1/
 EEI Electric Vehicle Sales and the Charging Infrastructure Required Through 2030 report, June 2022: https://www.eei.org/resources-and-media/energy-talk/Articles/2022-06-eei-projects-264-million-electric-vehicles-will-be-on-us-roads-in-2030#:~:text=The%20projected%2026.4%20million%20EVs,to%0sell%20the%20next%20million
 The Hill, May 15, 2023: https://thehill.com/homenews/nexstar_media_wire/4004678-say-goodbye-to-am-radio-why-carmakers-are-removing-it-from-new-models/#:~:text=Car%20manufacturers%20are%20increasingly%20opting,at%20least%20some%20electric%20models
 Cumulus Media, April 2023: https://www.cumulusmedia.com/2023/04/24/new-studies-reveal-power-of-am-fm-radio-in-cars/
 According to a study released by Edison Research, Nov. 2021: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/89-of-car-buyers-in-us-say-broadcast-radio-should-be-standard-in-every-vehicle-301420139.html#:~:text=Among%20the%201%2C060%20recent%20and,current%20and%20future%20car%20buyers
 Xperi’s April 2021 Caravan Survey: Pandemic Increases Importance of Personal Vehicle and In-Dash Infotainment: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210401005276/en/Pandemic-Increases-Importance-of-Personal-Vehicle-and-In-Dash-Infotainment
 DTS / Xperi data, 2023: https://dts.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/DTS-Infographic-for-NAB-Show-April-20231.pdf