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Why phasing out AM radio in vehicles is a bad thing–especially in Canada

These are not good days for AM radio, the oldest form of radio broadcasting. Yes, it’s sonically inferior to FM and is prone to all kinds of static interference (power lines, lightning, etc.) but it’s still important. More of that in a moment.

The car is radio’s most important environment. But now, many manufacturers are phasing out AM radio as a standard feature, starting with EVs. Tesla was first, pointing out that the strong electromagnetic fields generated by an EV’s motors all but drown out AM signals. Others pure EV makers (Rivian, Polestar) have followed. Mazda, BMW, Volvo, and Volkswagen have also dropped AM from the battery-powered models. GM plans to do the same.

The biggest blow came this week with Ford, which announced that they were phasing out AM globally in all their vehicles. A spokesperson for the company said this to Broadcast Dialogue: “Ford will continue to offer internet streaming through mobile apps, FM or digital options for customers to hear their favourite AM radio programming as the global transition away from AM radio continues.”

Translation: If you want AM programming (news, weather, opinion talk shows, traffic, and most important of all, play-by-play sports), you’ll find another way to listen in your new Ford. How? That’s TBD. GM has said that it will “reject phone projection” to its infotainment systems, restricting the connection to your car to making phone calls. What will this “internet streaming option through mobile apps” be? The potential prospects are not good.

The loss of AM will especially rough for Canada which has over 180 of these stations:

  • Because the FM band is so crowded in major markets, the option of flipping an AM to FM is impossible. There’s just no room on the dial between 87.9 and 107.9 Mhz.
  • The CRTC has rules in place regarding how many stations a company can own in a single market, divided between AM and FM signals. If there’s any chance of jamming more signals onto FM, the regulations will have to change.
  • If it proves impossible to flip to FM, there are two choices: Sunset the AM station or turn an FM music station into talk. The CRTC rules behind talk on FM are murky at best, although this is being challenged in Calgary.
  • AM radio covers vast distances, an important consideration for a country like Canada with a lot of open space and many blind spots when it comes to cellular/data coverage. As Canadian Association of Broadcasters President Kevin Desjardins points out, “[I]t is unfortunate that the assumption is made that internet streaming of stations will be a suitable substitute. In a country as geographically expansive as Canada, AM radio remains an essential way to keep people in rural and remote areas connected and informed, especially in the case of emergencies.”

Dark days for AM. The next few years are going to be interesting.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38336 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

6 thoughts on “Why phasing out AM radio in vehicles is a bad thing–especially in Canada

  • Yeah, I just picked up a 2022 Ford Mach-E GT. No AM in this car.

    To be fair though, other than the occasional NHL broadcast, I don’t think I’ve listened to AM radio in decades.

    Reply
  • And the only reason one would be caught in this mire is if they buy a new vehicle. Your old AM radio in your old car will work just fine. Consumers will have to decide what is more important.

    Reply
    • “Dark days for AM. The next few years are going to be interesting ”

      Not really. Because no one gives a flying ****. Mk

      Reply
  • “…an important consideration for a country like Canada with a lot of open space”

    That ‘lot of open space’ really makes me question the forced push into EVs in the first place.

    Reply
  • I couldn’t care less if AM disappeared. The only AM I ever listen to is 680 News when i am in the city, their traffic is still a bit better than WAZE, but other then that, with a 30GB data plan, I stream everything else, local radio just doesn’t cut it anymore…

    Reply
    • That’s part of the problem tho, “it doesn’t affect me cuz I’m in the city/have tons of data/other options…”
      Driving great distances across our county shows a lot of “dead zones” and coverage gaps that don’t affect the AM waves that many have come to rely on for entertainment and news OUTSIDE the cities. The country does expand beyond the GTA…

      Reply

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