AM Radio Doesn’t Work in New Electric Cars

December 11, 2018

For most of the 20th century, the AM radio band served as the country’s main source for mass media. And while broadcasters eventually moved on to higher quality options like FM and satellite radio, the AM dial remains packed with all sorts of talk, sports, and music programs. And just like in the early days, anybody can tune in as long as they own a radio. That is unless you want to listen while riding in your Tesla or Chevrolet Bolt.

While these electric vehicles allow drivers to travel hundreds of miles on a single charge, their motors also emit frequencies on the same wavelength as AM radio signals. “You get two signals that literally collide into each other and cancel each other out before the antenna even receives the signal,” said Brian McKay, an executive at the automotive manufacturer Continental AG. What’s more, this problem will only become worse as electric motors become more powerful. That’s why Tesla decided to phase out the AM radio entirely on all of its current production models, opting instead to offer an Internet-based radio service.

Although this decision makes sense given the relative unpopularity of AM radio, a number of customers have voiced their opposition against it. For instance, a Dallas business owner named Travis Hollman was shocked to find that the fully loaded Tesla he ordered didn’t come with an AM radio band. “I was so mad I told them to take the car back,” he said. AM broadcasters have also railed against removing the frequency from cars. After all, their dwindling audiences could disappear entirely if more firms follow Tesla’s lead. Meanwhile, Toyota said its engineers are working on a solution to the AM issue. The problem is difficult to fix, though, and companies may start to lose interest in saving AM radio as more people flock to Internet options.

Questions:

  1. Do you think more auto companies should follow Tesla’s lead and remove AM radios from cars? Why or why not?
  2. Why are broadcasters so concerned about keeping AM radios in cars?

Source: Chester Dawson, “Your Tesla Can Go Zero to 60 in 2.5 Seconds But Can’t Get AM Radio,” The Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2018.

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