Westerman leading effort to protect AM radio

Westerman backs requiring it in cars

An industry affiliate tests out Ford's Sync connection and entertainment system inside a Ford Fusion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in this Jan. 9, 2013 file photo. (AP/Julie Jacobson)
An industry affiliate tests out Ford's Sync connection and entertainment system inside a Ford Fusion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in this Jan. 9, 2013 file photo. (AP/Julie Jacobson)

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan, bicameral group of federal legislators is pushing new legislation requiring car manufacturers to keep AM radio in their vehicles.

The coalition last week introduced the AM for Every Vehicle Act in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. If the proposal becomes law, all vehicle companies would have to install appropriate technology to make all cars capable of receiving AM radio stations without any costs to consumers. The Government Accountability Office would additionally study alternative systems as effective as AM radio broadcasts for making public emergency announcements.

Companies would be responsible for informing customers if certain models cannot receive AM radio broadcasts.

The bill is a response to some manufacturers dropping AM radio from their vehicles, including electric cars. Eight companies -- including Ford Motor Co. and Tesla -- have removed AM radio from their products.

"Just because something has been around for a while doesn't mean it's outlived its usefulness," Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., told reporters Thursday.

Markey and Texas Republican Ted Cruz are leading the Senate's effort to pass the bill. Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican from Hot Springs, is part of the House group pushing that respective chamber's measure.

[DOCUMENT: Read the proposed AM for Every Vehicle Act » arkansasonline.com/521amradio/]

"Many Arkansans rely on AM broadcast radio for breaking news and entertainment as they make their daily commutes, especially in rural areas where constituents spend a lot of time in their vehicles. In the case of severe weather, something Arkansas is no stranger to, AM radio is critical in updating the public to assure their safety," Westerman said in a statement.

"With this bill, we're protecting AM broadcast radio by ensuring that automakers continue providing AM radio in new vehicles, cannot impose unnecessary fees or surcharges that would prevent Americans from accessing these vital services in their vehicles, and clearly indicate if any vehicle lacks AM radio capability."

Electric car producers argue electric vehicles' components can interfere with AM radio transmissions, affecting the strength of the broadcast signals. Some manufacturers and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents car companies and technology makers, contend motorists can still access AM radio stations through digital platforms like smartphone apps.

"As new technologies enter the marketplace, our industry will continue to seek innovative, enhanced methods that drive the deployment of advanced technologies and promote safety," Garrick Francis, the vice president of federal affairs with the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, told Markey in a December letter.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said AM radio stations provide essential services other platforms cannot do as effectively, such as emergency alerts and news updates. Consumers do not need cellular or internet access to access programming like with digital services, and radio station owners maintain generators and other resources to ensure broadcasts can withstand emergency situations and weather events.

"AM radio is the backbone behind America's national public warning system," Gottheimer said. "When the cellphone goes out, internet goes out or the television doesn't work because there is no power to your house, you can still use AM radio. It will be there."

Two commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel and Nathan Simington, and the National Association of Broadcasters have voiced support for the proposal.

"Auto manufacturers need to realize the importance of AM radio as a critical tool for public safety. It will be there when we need it as it always has," said Gottheimer, who serves as co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

While speaking to reporters, Markey brought up The Buggles song "Video Killed the Radio Star." When MTV launched in August 1981, the music channel began with airing the song's related music video.

"If The Buggles were writing today, they would need to update those lyrics to 'Automakers Killed the Radio Star,'" he said. "It didn't die 40 years ago or 30 years ago or 20 years ago. And like video before it ... the automakers will and must fail."

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