The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

AM’s Future? Depends on Whom You Ask

[July 2023] The discussion on whether AM is doomed or not continues. This time, we asked Donna Halper, college professor and media historian. What is her take?

Nearly every day, I listen to AM radio.

I live in Boston, and we have a heritage AM, WBZ NewsRadio, that is still (mostly) live and local. Of course, it is not the only station I listen to – sometimes I am in the mood for music, or sports, or a podcast. But when I need local weather or traffic, and when I want to know about the biggest local stories, WBZ is my go-to source.

I am often told that I am the last of a dying breed.


According to the common wisdom, AM is a soon-to-be-obsolete technology, listened to by a small number of aging baby boomers and nobody else.

But statistics do not seem to bear that out. At least, not yet.

For example, several analyses of Nielsen ratings in 2022 showed that about 47-50 million people listened to AM; one study said it was as many as 80 million.

Agreed, some of these listeners are in the older demographic, but a majority are not. And a different study, conducted by Edison Research, 73% of U.S. drivers listen to radio in their car; among them, 26% listened to news and/or talk, and 20% preferred sports.


But despite the fact that in-car listening remains one of radio’s strengths, growing number of manufacturers of electric vehicles, including BMW, Mazda, Volvo, Tesla, and Volkswagen, have decided offering AM on car radios is not feasible.

The reason they give is that the electric motors can interfere with AM radio frequencies, producing static and affecting reception.

Of course, the brands manufactured internationally undoubtedly have one other reason: AM is no longer widely available in Europe or in much of Asia. Most major broadcasting services there have transitioned to FM. Thus, the manufacturers believe it doesn’t make economic sense to offer AM when there is such a limited audience for it.


In the US, however, the topic of AM in cars is still a contentious issue.

When Ford, citing research that fewer than 5% of its customers ever listen to AM, announced the company planned to eliminate AM from its 2024 gasoline-powered Mustang, as well as no longer offering AM on several of its electric models – the Mustang Mach-e and F-150 Lightning electric pickup trucks – there was an intense backlash.

Conservatives were outraged because the vast majority of AM talk radio is right-leaning. People in rural areas expressed their concern because in areas where Internet reception is spotty, AM can be a lifeline for local news and weather reports.

In addition, emergency alerts are still broadcast on AM.


Publishers of media magazines called out the decision, as did numerous AM station owners, consultants, members of Congress, the National Association of Broadcasters, and various listeners.

In May, Jim Farley, Ford’s CEO, reversed the decision, saying AM would in fact be available for the 2024 gasoline-powered Mustang. As for the EVs, Ford would provide an online software update to restore AM.

But although AM’s proponents were pleased, this seemed more like a stop-gap measure, rather than a permanent solution. And it did not answer the question of whether enough people care about AM to encourage companies like Ford (or anyone else) to support it.


Having read a number of newspaper and magazine articles, both for and against AM, I decided to ask some radio listeners for their opinions.

So, I put the question out on social media. Agreed, it was a very unscientific survey, but my query on Twitter got more than 18,000 views and several hundred people replied, ranging in age from their 40s through their 70s. It was certainly a subject a lot of people wanted to talk about.

As might be expected, the consensus was that people mainly listened to radio in the car; and when they did listen to AM, it was mainly for sports, local news, and weather.

Many respondents named a news or news-talk station, like KOA in Denver or WCCO in Minneapolis or WBZ in Boston. Some referred to a station with excellent play-by-play announcers, or a local talk show host they liked.


It is also worth noting that a majority of the respondents were frustrated by the sameness, and the lack of variety on AM.

Even some folks who identified as conservatives said the fact that there is nothing else available in their city was a problem. There did seem to be a few stations that offer old radio shows, or that still played music (country mostly).

But many of the respondents lamented that AM in their city was no longer live and local (or was only live during the morning show). Thus, they only tuned in for a specific reason—such as a ballgame or weather and traffic.


Meanwhile, beginning several weeks ago, a similar conversation broke out on the BROADCAST mailing list on

As many of the members are broadcast engineers, the topic began with a discussion about radio in cars, especially EVs – and interference.

Then, it expanded to encompass questions about who still listens to AM, famous AM personalities of the past, current signal quality of various stations, why some AMs do not sound good, and whether AM still has a future. Overall, there have been about 150 posts, and as of several days ago, people were still discussing it.


I also contacted one of my senators, Ed Markey, who has been among the members of Congress fighting to keep AM radio in cars.

He responded in part that, “For nearly a century, AM radio has been a free, essential feature in cars on the road… Carmakers shouldn’t remove broadcast AM radio or lock it behind a costly digital paywall, especially at a time when public officials continue to rely on it to provide drivers critical information during disasters and emergencies.”

He also noted the he has sponsored the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act, which now has bipartisan support in the Senate.

And then I spoke with some station owners.


One format that has remained successful on AM is ethnic broadcasting.

I reached out to Patrick J. Costa, Managing Partner of Massachusetts-based Costa Eagle Media, who owns five Spanish-language stations. A recent inductee into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, he told me, “Without question, ethnic radio on AM is still quite popular. Even though we were the first station in the Boston Metro to have an FM frequency, the majority of our listeners still listen on our 800 AM frequency because it is more powerful and covers more area.”

Steve Moravec, President of the Minnesota-based Phoenix Media Group, a consultant and broker who was a station owner, has been very vocal about his faith in AM, telling me, “We really have two factors at play here: [There is] AM, the somewhat flawed technical platform, and AM the format, in reality usually Full Service. Also [a] factor is the greatly diminished quality of radio receivers and the highly destructive noise created by all sorts of Part 15 devices. If only everyone had the ability to own a C. Crane-quality radio we could have a better listening environment for today and tomorrow.”

Moravec went on to say, “We’ve owned four AMs over the years, but none now.  They have one common thread and that is service to the listening public.  We know we’ve saved lives with those signals and can document that.”

Fred Jacobs, a well-known radio consultant and digital strategist, responded, “While AM radio is no longer enjoying peak success, 80 million people still listen each month – a powerful audience car and truck manufacturers should not take for granted. Ford’s decision – which they have since walked back – to eliminate AM from their new EV Lightning F-150 trucks was especially suspect in that the farmer and rancher communities depend on these vehicles as well as AM radio in their service areas for up-to-date information on agriculture, the weather, and conditions germane to their livelihoods.”

Jacobs also offered AM owners some good advice. “The best pathway for an AM owners is to “hit ’em where they ain’t.”  In other words, find a marketable niche in your metro or hometown underserved by the other radio stations and media outlets in town.  The more unique, the better chances these stations will find an audience.”

Of course, not everyone supported the idea that AM in cars is important, or even that AM serves a useful purpose in 2023.

Some of the folks who responded to my survey said they had not listened to AM in years. Others noted that they can stream the signal online. And then, there is the Consumer Technology Association, which is on record saying they oppose any efforts from Congress (or anyone else) to force auto manufacturers into carrying a technology the majority of consumers no longer want.

The CTA statement reads, in part, “While AM radio holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of many and continues to offer important news, weather, and entertainment, mandating its installation in all new cars would be a nonsensical and counterproductive move by the federal government. Some make the argument that AM radio is necessary for emergency broadcasts, but in such cases FM radio, Internet streaming services, better rural broadband, and text alerts should be able to make up for any loss of AM radio access.”


So, are those who defend AM just nostalgic for the good old days, back when AM still played music and personality deejays ruled the airwaves?

What about those rural listeners who still remain loyal to AM and who enjoy what their local station has to offer? And what do we say to the many men and women who own AM stations and are still trying to serve their community? Some folks are certain there is a fix for the problems with reception in electric vehicles – if there is a will to do something about it.

Some folks also believe that more varied programs and more unique content might attract more people back to AM. Others believe the ship has sailed, and no matter what a station might try, the results will not be positive.

I found it interesting that everyone with whom I spoke had very intense opinions. For a supposedly dying technology, many people still seem to care about AM’s survival – even those who told me they had not listened in ages still had suggestions about what AM could do differently.

Meanwhile, the problem of how to save AM continues to inspire debate, but it does not seem to inspire any simple solutions.

I would be interested in your opinion too: are you among the folks who think it is time to move on and leave AM behind, or are you among the folks who think AM still matters and it ought to be saved? As someone who has spent years listening to AM, and who has consulted numerous AM stations over those years, personally I am not ready to give up on it.

But as I said earlier, perhaps I am the last of a dying breed.

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Recently inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Regular BDR Contributor Donna Halper is a media historian, educator (Associate Professor at Lesley University), and radio consultant.

She is the author of six books and many articles about the history of broadcasting. Contact her at:

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