A new bill to require all cars to have access to AM radio has bipartisan support in the House and Senate, although one of the groups the bill benefits most is conservative broadcasters.
The proposed legislation comes as at least eight major carmakers (out of 20) have said they will discontinue providing AM radio in new car models, including Ford, Tesla and BMW, according to news reports.
The bill, formally titled the AM for Every Vehicle Act, not only provides a lifeline to the conservative talk shows that dominate the AM band, but it also gives a boost to AM radio in general.
The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on May 17, sponsored by two Republicans and three Democrats -- Reps. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), Tom Kean Jr. (R-NJ), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Rob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.).
The bill is being led by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) -- two senators who could not be farther apart on just about every other issue, but have come together for the sake of AM radio.
The overwhelming bipartisan support of the bill virtually guarantees it will be passed. And even before that, it has already borne fruit as Ford reversed course and announced Tuesday that it will continue making AM radio available in its cars.
On his podcast, “Verdict,” Sen. Cruz expressed his amazement with the way Republicans and Democrats have united on this issue.
“For Ed Markey and me to introduce a bill together in the world of Washington is a pretty shocking thing because Markey and I agree on very, very little,” Cruz said.
“And the most conservative member of the Senate, along with one of the, if not the most liberal member of the Senate, joining together, I think that kind of freaked a lot of observers out in Washington.”
The two are both members of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, which has oversight of these kinds of broadcast issues.
Despite the preponderance of national conservative talk-show stars on AM radio, the liberal Markey has been leading the efforts to reverse the automakers’ plans to do away with AM.
His main concern has less to do with preserving diverse voices on the AM band than AM’s role as a vital source of information in emergency situations. He said he also supports the preservation of AM generally because millions of Americans still use it.
“For decades, free AM broadcast radio has been an essential tool in emergencies, a crucial part of our diverse media ecosystem, and an irreplaceable source for news, for weather, for sports, and entertainment for tens of millions of listeners,” Markey said.
“But automakers are making the foolish decision to remove AM radio from many new vehicles. I am introducing the AM for Every Vehicle Act to ensure that new vehicles continue to have access to AM radio. We cannot let this resilient and popular communication tool to become a relic of the past,” he said.
Conservative talk shows dominate the list of the highest-rated national radio shows in the U.S., although there are some notable exceptions.
For example, two NPR shows no one would ever mistake for conservative talk -- “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” -- are both in the top 10 with estimated average audiences of 14.7 million and 13.1 million, respectively.
On the conservative side, the top shows are “The Sean Hannity Show” with 14.5 million listeners; “The Mark Levin Show,” 12 million; Glenn Beck, 10 million; Dan Bongino, 8.745 million; and Mike Gallagher, 8.5 million.
For his part, Cruz agreed with the emergency response issue, but he also acknowledged the benefits for what he called “important voices in free speech.”
“On many things we don’t see eye to eye,” he said of his liberal Senate colleague. “But in this instance, the emergency response factor persuaded me and, in particular, the viewpoint-discrimination targeting talk radio, that moved me significantly.
“I don’t want to see important voices in free speech silenced, and I think pulling AM radio out of automobiles would have done that. And so I agreed to sign on,” he said.
If passed, the legislation would “direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a rule that requires automakers to maintain AM broadcast radio in their vehicles without a separate or additional payment, fee or surcharge,” according to an official announcement on Rep. Gottheimer’s website.
It would “require any automaker that sells vehicles without access to AM broadcast radio before the effective date of the NHTSA rule to clearly disclose to consumers that the vehicle lacks access to AM broadcast radio.”
And it would “direct the Government Accountability Office to study whether alternative communication systems could fully replicate the reach and effectiveness of AM broadcast radio for alerting the public to emergences.”
“I would think that if Elon Musk has enough money to buy Twitter and send rockets to space, he can afford to include AM radio in his Teslas, Gottheimer said.