Inside the new legislative push to keep AM radio alive

WCCO Radio in Minneapolis, MN
WCCO Radio in Minneapolis, MN(Quinn Gorham)
Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 6:35 PM CDT
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MINNEAPOLIS (GRAY) – Most people are used to the sound of the radio kicking on every time they turn the ignition on their car. In recent years, the familiar sound of radio chatter has occasionally been replaced by the sound of Bluetooth pairing or music from one’s phone. Still, AM radio is alive and well, according to those in the industry.

“There are still 82 million people a month that listen to AM radio nationally,” said Jeff Gonsales, Senior Vice President of Audacy Twin Cities.

Audacy owns several Twin Cities-based radio stations, including WCCO radio, one of the largest stations in the state.

Gonsales explained that radio still serves a not-so-niche market of devoted listeners, even in an age where the audio industry has shifted from analog to digital.

“A lot of under-served audiences, Hispanic, religious, farm networks, and more still rely on AM to distribute their information,” Gonsales said.

In recent years, WCCO has begun offering digital content on top of their regular over-the-air programming.

“We’re trying to be where people are consuming their news and talk information. We’re on all the social channels and streaming, so we’re evolving,” he said.

Gonsales is adamant that despite their own ventures into the digital space, their classic AM radio content is still a thriving and lively industry.

“WCCO alone reaches over 300,000 listeners in the Twin Cities every week. That’s not counting all of the farms and the rural areas throughout Minnesota,” he said.

The idea that AM Radio is still a necessity- even as digital streaming emerges- is at the core of a new bill being introduced in the nation’s capital. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is spearheading an effort to maintain access to AM radio in all vehicles in the US after several manufacturers expressed plans to eliminate the service from their vehicles.

“They’re going to just take away AM radio, which was the announcement that we all heard recently,” said Klobuchar.

Above all else, Klobuchar framed access to AM Radio as a matter of national security. AM is one of the few modes of communication that would be useable in the event of a mass outage.

“Seven former FEMA emergency administrators from the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and the Trump administration have spoken out and said this is not okay,” said Klobuchar, “There’ll be a huge risk to public safety if you started messing around with AM radio.”

The Bill has already received both bipartisan and bicameral support, leading advocates like Gonsales feeling optimistic.

“On the Senate side and the [House of] Representatives side, there’s bipartisan support. So having both houses supporting it, I’m confident,” he said.

If you’d like to support the bill, you can text “AM” to 52886 to let your local political leaders know about your support for the bill.