May 5, 2023

When people listen to the radio, over 40% of listeners are in a car. However, several electric vehicle companies have decided to drop AM Radio from some of their models due to electromagnetic interference. Big companies like Ford, Tesla, and Audi have already dropped AM Radio from their new 2024 cars. Ford reported they are even planning on phasing out AM Radio from non-electrical vehicles. Hyundai, however, says they have no plans to phase out AM Radio from their electric vehicles.

Controversy Surrounding AM Radio Elimination

Since AM Radio is still an extremely popular platform with millions of people tuning in, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the removal of AM Radio. A member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee says the elimination of AM Radio could cause issues with public safety, since AM Radio has been a way for “public officials to communicate with the public during times of emergency." The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) even launched a “Depend on AM Radio” campaign that highlights the importance AM Radio has on reporting news, community engagement, entertainment, and public safety information.

Farmers have also been speaking out about this topic since farmers are reliant on AM Radio for weather and commodity prices during farming season. Rural areas are also dependent on AM Radio since Wi-Fi is not as accessible. Carmakers have responded to this controversy by saying there are other ways for consumers to get news and public safety information such as in-car FM translators and audio streaming. However, FM translators have limited reach and streaming is dependent on internet strength.

The History of AM Radio

AM Radio has been around for more than 100 years, and primarily started with broadcasting live events. The first American commercial radio license went to KDKA in Pittsburgh. They started broadcasting in 1920. Years later, when television was created, many radio personalities switched over to the new medium. During this time, rock ‘n’ roll music was becoming popular so many AM stations pivoted to playing pop and rock music. With its wide reach, AM stations were also popular for emergency broadcasts. Due to regulations being lifted on FM Radio, FM Radio surpassed AM Radio in the music department. Because of this, AM Radio switched over to news, sports, talk, and other formats. In 1989, legendary Chicago pop and rock station WLS-AM 890 switched formats from a music format to news and talk. It was a sign of the times.

My History with AM Radio

I have worked for multiple AM radio stations before I founded my agency. One of those was the legendary WLS-AM Radio in Chicago. During the late '80s, '90s and 2000s, I realized how powerful and impactful AM Radio can be as a marketing vehicle. The initial influencer marketing campaigns were derivatives of AM Radio, as popular hosts like Don Wade & Roma, Rush Limbaugh and others hawked various products. Personally, I sold many Live Personality Endorsement campaigns through my 3 decades in media and they worked like a charm! Clients' phones would ring off the hook from the ads and much product got sold. It didn't matter if it was a network connection for your brand new website in the infancy of the internet, a probiotic to help with digestion, a restaurant serving prime steaks or a golf course in Lake Geneva. These campaigns worked and worked brilliantly.

AM Radio Today

AM Radio is still a very popular medium, with NAB reporting 82 million people listening to AM Radio monthly. About 30% of listeners are baby boomers and 47% of Americans still get their news from AM Radio. Electric vehicle sales are continuing to grow, and General Motors hopes to only sell electric vehicles by 2035.

With the continued growth in manufacturing of electric vehicles, will AM Radio have a future? How will advertisers feel that their ads will no longer be heard in cars, where 40% of listening happens?

Roger Keys, the author, is Founder/President of Marketing Keys.

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May 5, 2023