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Farm Broadcasters: AM Radio important in rural America

As the radio industry’s battle to keep AM radio in vehicle dashboards has gained traction in Washington, the role of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) could prove critical to pull in support from lawmakers that represent rural districts and those federal agencies that operate well beyond the Beltway.

NAFB recently held its annual Washington Watch conference and among the issues that was on the agenda was the future of AM radio in cars. It included a meeting with farm broadcasters and 15 member of Congress during which the prospect for losing AM from the dashboard was laid out, and each were said to have agreed that it is a bad idea to take broadcast radio out of vehicles.

Rob Larew, President of the National Farmers Union, said such a move would hit rural residents, and ultimately farmers and ranchers, more than most. He told “Reel Country 1430” WRDN Durand, WI owner Brian Winnekins – who also hosts the station’s early morning “Farm Report” program – that farmers depend on radio to access news and information.

“Too often rural residents are left at a huge disadvantage,” Larew said. “This issue, though, goes beyond rural areas, quite frankly. And it is another example of where you have a few manufacturers dictating and directing what that access to information is in the future. That shouldn't be, and certainly we support the efforts to change that.”

During NAFB’s Washington Watch, Winnekins says farm broadcasters also had a chance to meet briefly with FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and staff from both her office as well as aides to Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. While the Federal Communications Commission could never order carmakers to include AM radio in their vehicles, one of the issues that came up was a potential script-flipper as they suggested that electric vehicles are causing interference to the AM band. That would fall more directly under the FCC’s authority, especially as several broadcasters pointed out electric vehicles may be causing interference to other cars and trucks on the road.

In recent weeks, NAFB has begun to work with the National Alliance of State Broadcast Associations to help devise a strategy for how its members could be most effective. That includes promoting a survey of broadcasters that will help craft the message the industry would like to send to automakers.

Research has shown just how important broadcast radio is to rural life. In a four-wave survey of farmers conducted in 2021 and 2022 by Aimpoint Research for the NAFB, it found as much as two-thirds of farmers reported listening to AM stations for information about their business, such as commodity market updates, weather, and new product information. The data shows AM outperformed FM when it came to providing information to the operator of rural America’s most critical economic segment. It also showed that radio overall far outpaced the role of ag television or farm-focused print publications.

Radio is especially important this time of year. NAFB says their survey found that radio listenership goes up during the spring and summer when three out of four farmers tune in five or more days per week.

But several carmakers don’t seem to care. In a series of letters to Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), eight automakers say they have pulled AM radio out of the dashboard for some of their models, mostly electric vehicles, due to a combination of technical hurdles, a belief that AM content can be accessed through streaming, and their conclusion that whatever content AM once had a lock on can now be found elsewhere. The list includes BMW, Ford, Mazda, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo. The responses from the biggest U.S. auto seller Ford was, however, followed-up with a pledge to keep AM in its commercial vehicles in the near-term.

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