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Pete Buttigieg’s inbox is getting blown up by former emergency officials warning the Secretary of Transportation that removing AM radios from cars could be disastrous in the event of an emergency. In case you haven’t heard, automakers are talking about taking AM radio out of new cars moving forward. This could be a problem. 

Ford F-150 Lightning
2023 Ford F-150 Lightning interior | Ford

What are AM radios for? 

Many new cars, especially EVs, have already been phasing out the old-timey car feature for the last decade or so. AM radio removal has mostly been contained to European carmakers. According to The Drive, as of last summer, the makers ditching AM cite sound quality issues as the main reason for the deletion. 

AM radio is a simpler, earlier form of radio transmission. This type of radio is often called medium-wave radio. The people worried about the loss of AM aren’t just wanting to conserve it for no reason. The benefits of AM are that not only can AM signals be sent much further than FM, but nearly 90 percent of the country can still be reached via AM.

Why do we need AM radio?

However, it’s happening in America, too. The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning just axed its AM receiver. 

A letter from seven former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrators was sent warning Secretary Pete about losing AM. “Should this continue, it will represent a grave threat to future local, state, and federal disaster response and relief efforts,” the letter warns.

“When all else fails, radio stations are often the last line of communications that communities have,” added Craig Fugate, head of FEMA under President Obama and one of the letter’s signatories. 

“AM radio has been tested over and over during the most devastating natural disasters—and has withstood them all,” added Antwane Johnson, a current FEMA official.

Do cars still have AM radios?

close up of an AM Radio in a car.
A Driver listens to a Radio station | Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yes, they do. The Drive notes that some EVs and plenty of other new cars still have the old standby. Some EVs still holding on are the Toyota BZ4X and the Chevy Bolt. Even the fancy future mobile from Hyundai, the Ioniq 5, still has AM radio. If the emergency officials’ warning wasn’t enough to convince, Buttiege, maybe the Nielsen report of nearly 47 million national listeners could. 

AM radio isn’t dead. It’s just slowed down. These days, fewer cars are being made with any way to listen to physical media like CDs. What AM radio does is guarantee that even if you get deep in the desert or high in the mountains, you can still have a way to get some talk radio or maybe even some jazz or gospel music. AM might seem like a completely outdated feature, but given the state of things, having a massive, nationwide way to get a message out is probably not the worst idea. These days, things are moving quickly. If COVID taught us anything, it should be that our world is fragile and things can change in a flash. Maybe holding onto AM radio isn’t the worst idea.