Article | May 18, 2023

Washington Shouldn't Mandate AM Radios in New Cars

CTA Staff

Technological advances occur at an astonishing pace. As new products come to market, it's crucial for the federal government to prioritize policies that promote innovation, consumer preferences, and freedom of choice. One such proposal that demands scrutiny is the idea of mandating AM radio in all new cars. While there are many benefits to AM radio, there are several reasons why such a mandate is unnecessary and contrary to the principles of a free-market economy.

1. Evolving Technological Landscape: The advent of streaming services, which offer access to many AM and FM stations free of charge, as well as satellite radio has revolutionized the way we consume audio content. Mandating AM radio in new cars would be like mandating CD or 8-track cassette players. Obviously, if certain manufacturers want to provide CD or 8-track players, that’s their right, but Washington mandating them in 2023 makes no sense. Neither does mandating AM radio receivers in new vehicles.

2. Burden on Automakers: Requiring AM radio installation in new cars would impose additional costs on automakers, leading to increased prices for consumers. AM radio reception is especially challenging and costly in new electric vehicles due to signal interference. This added burden could stifle innovation in other areas of vehicle development, potentially impeding safety features or advancements in fuel efficiency.

3. Market Competitiveness: The automotive industry is fiercely competitive, constantly striving to meet consumer demands. Manufacturers already invest in advanced infotainment systems, featuring Bluetooth, voice recognition, satellite radio, and integration with smartphones. Mandating AM radio could divert resources and limit the industry's ability to adapt to evolving consumer needs.

While AM radio holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of many and continues to offer important news, weather, and entertainment, mandating its installation in all new cars would be a nonsensical and counterproductive move by the federal government. Some make the argument that AM radio is necessary for emergency broadcasts, but in such cases FM radio, internet streaming services, better rural broadband, and text alerts should be able to make up for any loss of AM radio access.

Embracing the principles of a free-market economy, individual choice, and technological innovation is crucial for progress. Instead, policymakers should focus on encouraging the development of new audio content platforms, promoting competition, and allowing consumers to decide their preferred listening experience.

The auto industry is highly responsive to the desires of its customers. Functions and features - including the makeup of the audio entertainment system - are chosen to maximize user satisfaction. If consumers want AM radio as a standard feature, auto makers would be foolish not to provide it. On the other hand, if users have largely moved on to other audio technologies, the government should not mandate AM radio any more than it should mandate CD players or car ashtrays. Indeed, Ford Motor Company has reported that less than 5% of the recent radio listenership in its internet-connected cars has been tuned to AM radio.

Of course, if consumers decide it’s a priority to have AM radio in their automobiles, they can always buy autos that come with AM radio. This isn’t about ending AM radio – it’s about consumer choice – and the vast majority of autos will continue to have AM radio access for the foreseeable future.

Today’s drivers don’t drive Model T’s, and today’s listeners do not listen to gramophones. While the majority of cars will have AM radios for the foreseeable future, innovation and consumer choice - not the heavy hand of the government - should determine the makeup of car entertainment systems.