The End of Another Era?

The year is 1964. Under a starry night sky, you are cruising down Route 66 in a new Mustang, listening to St Louis Cardinal baseball on KMOX-AM, the immortal Bob Gibson on the mound, throwing against the Cubs.

If you are of a certain age, some of your fondest memories probably involve an AM radio. Every household had several of them, and because they were so cheap, you probably had one of your very own. And that AM radio was your ticket to adventure – who knows what faraway city might show up on any given night. And your adventure quotient was exponentially boosted if your AM radio happened to be mounted in a dashboard (all metal, no padding!). Driving in your car and listening to the radio. It didn't get any better than that.

But a part of that highway to paradise is eroding and will probably be lost forever. Tomorrow's cars will still have radios. Even if the music is bouncing off a bird in geostationary orbit, it's still radio – kind of. But one thing that you might miss is AM radio. More and more cars are omitting this once-vital piece of gear.

Case in point: the 2024 Ford Mustang, due out this summer. One glance tells you it's still a Mustang. What a classic set of contours. Thankfully, the 7th generation Pony Car is still powered by gasoline, and can be fitted with a manual transmission. And the Mustang's sound system has come a long way since 1964. In the newest iteration, the GT trim level can be optioned with a Bang & Olufsen system sporting 12 speakers including subwoofer. But, you can't get a new Mustang with an AM radio.

End of an era? Ford will ditch AM radio in the 2024 Mustang and it is not the only carmaker doing so.

It costs basically nothing to put AM in a car. So why are car makers dropping it? I suspect it's because AM seems old-fashioned, and dare I say it – low class. Decades ago, FM radio became more popular and eventually displaced AM for many listeners. FM was the place to listen to music, especially if a station played complete albums. AM became all talk-radio, all the time. FM was cool, AM was not. In that sense, AM went downhill. Today's car makers are desperate to exude a slick, modern image and AM ain't it. Admittedly, many AM stations are rebroadcast through internet streaming to various apps so much AM content is still available. But the snap, cackle, and pop of AM reception is fading.

Some car makers are skipping AM radio for technical reasons. Tesla dropped AM back in 2018 because the cars' electrical power train creates electromagnetic interference that messes up AM reception. Along the same lines, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Volvo are dropping AM, and Ford's F-150 Lightning EV pickup dropped AM this year. Apparently, car makers are deciding that the cost to mitigate the interference isn't worth it.

So, it looks like AM, at least in the car market, is driving off into the sunset. I don't know, maybe it's the Route 66 nostalgia talking, but I'll miss its company on those starry nights.

TowerTone's picture

Alone at nights on our farm in rural Texas I could pull in AM stations from different parts of America depending on weather patterns and co-channelling, but in the '69 Olds Delta88 (with a 455...) FM was king, at least until the under-dash cassette player was installed. That and a pair of Jensen 6x9 Triaxials was a dream. Well, that and the huge backseat..!

It's been said AM made Rush Limbaugh available to millions and for that he never forgot. He stayed with them (and FM) until the end, never abandoning it for satellite. Say what you will about him, but AM has suffered since his death and I believe this is a direct (although eventual) outcome of that.