Is AM radio obsolete?
Every sequence of time has its golden epoch. For radio, more specifically on the AM side of the dial, its half-century run from its advent at KDKA in Pittsburgh in the 1920s to the late 1970s. AM was king -- the internet of its era.
My AM salad days included legendary DJs Cousin Brucie on WABC and Wolfman Jack on WNBC, both homegrown Brooklynites. However, it wasn’t until I heard the crackle of traffic and weather together on the eights with Lou Timolat of WCBS, that I was introduced to the true power of amplitude modulation. It happened on the evening of our move to Pennsylvania from New York. Dad may have physically moved but he was still tethered to the city in many ways and continuing to tune in WCBS news on the dial during dinner was one of them.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and some car companies have made it a point to stop installing AM radios in new models. Is AM radio destined to go the way of eight-tracks, cassettes, CD players, ashtrays, and cigarette lighters?
Not if Congress has its way.
Surprisingly, bipartisan support resonates on both sides of the aisle as lawmakers want to mandate that AM radio is available in all new vehicles.
Why is this a surprise?
Because AM radio has a longstanding lineup of conservative talk up and down the dial.
Abolish AM is the cry from the Electric Vehicle (EV) crusade. Apparently, the static produced by an EV interferes with AM’s reception. This makes AM expendable, according to the EV honchos and the green energy lobby who desire everything electric -- minus a border fence.
Automakers are also howling about the cost as if this is some coerced satellite radio program that is nearly impossible to cancel. In actuality, the AM receiver is the most inexpensive feature on a car apart from the glove compartment. The car companies have already lobbied more money fighting this than they could possibly save.
Thanks to consolidation within the radio industry, AM radio may be the only local broadcast option for many throughout rural America, where it is the only clear and consistent signal. Moreover, many locales have poor FM reception and spotty cell-phone service. AM radio stations are like the local post offices and a historical part of America’s greatness. Most of all, AM radio has been the anchor of the emergency communication network since its inception.
Government plans for high-impact events like an attack on critical infrastructure that is more interconnected than ever before. As such, the potential for catastrophe has only increased. Nothing matches amplitude modulation, especially when streaming is unavailable. FM stations are limited to line of sight and use much more bandwidth than AM stations, which possess a much greater reach.
Trusting a smartphone for emergency broadcasts over a network that is susceptible to the elements and can get easily overwhelmed makes you a victim in waiting. The incremental cost of AM reception is negligible -- no subscription required.
AM’ s viability and fate should be left in the hands of the market, not the auto industry or politicians. If market forces applied, EVs would be withering on the vine along with plenty of other government-subsidized businesses.
Remember the Solyndra debacle and other solar and wind firms that went belly up like birds around a windmill?
According to Nielsen Media Research, there are more than 4,500 AM stations reaching nearly 78 million. A market exists for AM radio. Granted, it isn’t a 1970s market, but it’s a market, nonetheless.
Once radio was a choice in a car. If a buyer wants AM, include it as an option. Government automotive meddling has a long history that needs to end that includes fuel efficiency, emissions, bailouts, tax credits, financing, and now radio.
This is the perfect paradigm of allowing the market to decide and shrink government overreach. Congress has better things to legislate. How about agreeing about the 3.8 million migrants that have broken our immigration laws in the past three years?
As the nation craters into division, an emergency broadcasting system is most important.
Old tech, yes, but proven and effective.