German luxury automaker BMW has raised the ire of the U.S. broadcast industry by rolling out the new models without AM radios.
The new i3, a five-passenger urban car priced around $50,000, will get the equivalent of 124 miles per gallon but drivers will be stymied trying to tune into 1010 WINS or KCBS-AM for traffic reports unless the National Association of Broadcasters gets its way.
“NAB appreciates BMW’s concern that the i3’s electric motor could cause interference with AM signals and leave customers frustrated. However BMW’s electric car competitors have addressed this AM signal interference sufficiently enough that their vehicles still come equipped with AM radio,” writes Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO.
European versions of the i3 have eliminated both the AM band and CD players from the dashboard, writes the broadcast trade site RadioWorld.com.
The nature of the AM frequency spectrum, versus FM, makes reception more susceptible to interference from electrical sources. Additional shielding can significantly reduce static, but sound quality rarely equals those of FM broadcasts.
NAB’s Smith wrote in a letter to BMW of North America chief Ludwig Willisch that the broadcast lobby was “saddened” to hear of the change and hopes the automaker would reconsider the AM decision.
Drawing a parallel to BMW’s affluent male demographic, Smith identified specific metropolitan areas and events that could be missed by drivers of AM-less i3 vehicles.
“Even today, legendary AM stations like WFAN in New York and WLW in Cincinnati serve as the flagship stations for professional teams like the Yankees and Reds in Major League Baseball and the Giants and Bengals in the National Football League. Recently, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings signed a deal to be on AM station KABC for the next five years.”
Beyond sports, radio stations often provide vital information in times of disaster, particularly in small, rural areas.
“In cities large and small, AM radio is the first line of defense in a crisis, and a galvanizing force in helping to rebuild communities recovering from disaster,” wrote the NAB chief.