Amplitude modulation transmissions, better known as AM, have been a mainstay in traditional car radios for decades. But consumers’ adoption of electric vehicles could soon end the avenue for easy-to-access public safety announcements—and emergency response experts are sounding the alarm.
AM radio may be most often associated with rural church pastor sermons, local high school football coverage, and colorful talk radio hosts, but it actually still serves an extremely vital purpose—few sources are as reliable during disasters and emergencies. These messages can travel the farthest on low radio frequencies, and AM operates on some of the lowest: between 525 to 1705 kHz. Time and again, they inform upwards of 47 million Americans of real-time federal and state information for hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, wildfires, and other major public safety incidents.
Unfortunately, many current electric vehicles’ propulsion systems generate electromagnetic noise that can interfere with AM signals. Both Tesla and Ford have already dropped AM support in their vehicles, including the 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning, and emergency management professionals are worried the cuts could spread.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, seven former administrators of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent a letter on Sunday to both Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and several congressional committees, urging legislators to guarantee continued AM radio support in carmakers’ EVs. According to FEMA via WSJ, an estimated 75 radio stations operating on the AM band covers over 90 percent of the entire US population, and are reinforced by backup comms equipment and generators allowing them to continue issuing crucial information in the event of an emergency. Although EVs’ arrival are needed to speed transitioning to a green transportation industry, losing an affordable, easy-to-maintain, and reliable safety tool could create major problems in the future.
Sen. Ed Markey (D, Mass) previously drew attention to the situation in December 2022 via a letter to 20 EV manufacturers, urging them to commit to continue AM availability in their products. The WSJ reports that the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a group representing major carmakers in the US, pledged a commitment to “maintaining access to safety alerts,” and has been meeting with the National Association of Broadcasters to discuss possible solutions.
For now, at least two automakers—Hyundai and Toyota—have stated they have no plans to remove AM radio support from their EV models, although representatives for the latter company conceded to WSJ that AM radio static “is a challenge” in its electric models.
Correction (March 16, 2023): AM stands for amplitude modulation, not amplitude modification.