Ford is reversing course on AM radio.
In a tweet today, CEO Jim Farley announced the company was backing off its decision to release new vehicles without AM radio broadcast capabilities. Instead, all 2024 Ford and Lincoln models will be able to tune in to AM radio. And for the two electric vehicles released without AM radio capabilities, a software update would be pushed to restore it.
The announcement came after Farley said he spoke with policy leaders on the “importance of AM broadcast radio as a part of the emergency alert system.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation in Washington last week that would require automakers to keep AM radio in all their vehicles. The bill was proposed in response to an increasing number of vehicles coming out without the first-generation radio broadcast technology.
Automakers are leaving out AM radio from their electric vehicles, in particular, citing possible electromagnetic interference with an EV powertrain. AM, which stands for amplitude modulation, differs from FM, or frequency modulation, based on how the carrier wave is modulated, or altered. Unlike frequency, amplitude can be affected by the noise emitted from electric devices, including smartphones, TVs, computers, and, yes, electric vehicles. The problem is when the interference gets picked up by the radio, which can lead to distortion and crackling.
Automakers generally see AM radio as an obsolete technology, arguing that there exist other technologies such as internet streaming, HD radio delivered on FM bands, or some apps that provide AM content that will make up for the absence of AM radio in vehicles.
Farley said that Ford would continue to explore these new technologies, even as it goes about reinstalling AM radio in its vehicles. “[W]e will continue to innovate to deliver even better in-vehicle entertainment and emergency notification options in the future,” he said in his tweet.
A number of automakers have come out in favor of ditching AM radio from their cars, including BMW, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo. And the Zero Emission Transportation Association, which lobbies on behalf of EV makers, argued that the legislation mandating AM radio would “slow innovation and reduce consumer preference.”
But the bill’s supporters claim that AM radio is irreplaceable. AM radio operates at lower frequencies and longer wavelengths, enabling it to pass through solid objects and travel further than other radio waves, a feature not shared by FM broadcasts. FEMA uses AM radio to broadcast critical safety alerts to the public, they note.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), a cosponsor on the legislation, applauded Ford’s decision to keep AM radio in its cars. “Ford’s reversal reflects an overdue realization about the importance of AM radio, but too many automakers are still going the wrong direction,” he said in a statement.