Are we losing AM radio?
Published 9:25 am Wednesday, July 12, 2023
I’ve been a regular AM radio listener for most of my life. And now I am terribly disappointed that AM radio stations are under siege. We are learning that a number of major auto companies are giving up on AM radio. They will not include access to these hundreds of stations in their new vehicles coming off the assembly line. And the reasons for doing so seem quite weak.
I cannot recall a time in my 83 years where AM radio wasn’t both available and an active part in my daily living. As a young kid before TV was available, my family would go to church on Sunday evening, then stop off at the local ice cream store for a quart of chocolate chip ice cream. We headed home to gather around the radio and listen to the weekly episode of Blondie and Dagwood. There were also Saturday morning cowboy radio shows. Many younger readers may not have had that wonderful experience pre- television, but I remember those programs well.
During my teenage years, Rock ‘n’ Roll was in its early stages, and we regularly gathered around the radio to listen to Bill Haley and the Comets, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles and other great musicians. We never missed listening to Casey Kasem, the smooth-voiced radio broadcaster who became the king of the top 40 countdown. In my 20s during my early years in politics, AM radio was my way of communicating with voters throughout my senatorial district. As I ran for several statewide offices, my first stop as I toured the state making speeches was the local AM radio station.
In my 30s, I discovered how much I loved opera, and rarely missed a Saturday afternoon presentation by the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, regularly broadcast on AM radio. And how far away could the signal carry? I remember being in Williamsburg, Virginia on a National Guard training mission, and listened on a Saturday night to LSU football being broadcast on WWL AM radio over 1000 miles away.
Up until recently, I hosted a nationally syndicated radio program on the Genesis Radio Network to hundreds of stations all across the US. Many listeners, particularly in mountainous regions throughout the country, wrote in to tell me that their television signals were often quite weak, and my program on AM radio was their means of staying in touch with news and entertainment. During a number of hurricanes, I broadcast throughout the night to flood victims, who had no electricity. In many instances, as the flood waters were rising, the portable AM radio was often the only source for a listener to find out information about the weather, and where to turn to for emergency help.
Now, this means of listening for millions of Americans will be a thing of the past. A number of European car makers, including Audi, BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Volvo have stopped including AM radio in their vehicles. Tesla no longer offers AM radio and Ford has announced it will drop it from electric pick-up trucks.
The reasoning is that hybrids and EVs supposedly have electrical systems that interfere with an AM radio signal. But technicians tell me that this is for cost savings, and that barely moving a few parts around or shielding the radios could solve the problem. Over 47 million listeners now tune in to AM radio, but this choice may well be fading away.
If the worst scenario comes about and AM radio continues to diminish, I suppose I’ll be able to live without it. But the medium of AM radio has been an important part of my life, both as a listener and a broadcaster, and many listeners out there no doubt feel the same way. Future generations, at least in my opinion, will have missed something quite special.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also listen to his regular podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.