WSJ: AM radio and electric cars don’t mix

(Source: Wall Street Journal via Bob LaRose W6ACU

Cars and AM radio go back a long way, but there’s a rough road ahead for the old travel buddies.

The same types of electric-powered motors that propel Teslas past 150 mph and the Chevy Bolt as far as 238 miles on a charge, are a total buzz kill for AM reception. Instead of sports, oldies or news, it’s more like all-static, all-the-time radio.

As auto makers race headlong into an electrified future, AM radios are getting kicked to the curb, joining cassette decks, eight-track players and ashtrays.

Daniel Rich is a fan of both San Francisco’s KNBR-AM 680 and his Chevy Bolt. That means his commute isn’t as easygoing as it used to be. “All my other cars over the years could receive that station just fine, despite the distance,” the 58-year-old eye surgeon said. “Not the Bolt.”

A General Motors Co. spokeswoman said GM was aware of the issue in the Bolt and has “taken steps,” but declined to say exactly what they are.[…]

Click here to read the full article at the Wall Street Journal.

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12 thoughts on “WSJ: AM radio and electric cars don’t mix

  1. Eric

    First of all, WSJ is known for spreading FUD and exaggerated negative news about Tesla and other EVs in general. It is true that any electric motor generates buzz in AM radio receivers to a varying degree, this is not new, this even exist in normal gasoline cars when the dynamo is running while driving. I once had to install an extra filter to eleminate radio interference in a older German car that I drove some years back.
    I am licensed ham since 1989, and I own a Tesla model S. In my neck of the woods (Switzerland) ALL AM stations were shut down since 2008! And I can only receive foreign AM stations during the night. The car also offers FM and DAB+ in Europe. As for receiving AM (or other) stations from around the world, the car offers built-in free internet connection with TuneIn app that streams most US and other stations without problem, so there is an alternative to direct AM reception built into the car, so you don’t need to listen to static as WSJ suggests!
    As much as I like AM dxing myself, which I do very often at home, I know that we need to move forward technologically to a more sustainable world, and getting rid of fossil fuels based transportation is one thing that we should do now before it is too late.
    Radio amateurs were always technology pioneers, but unfortunately, some are stuck in the past and are unwilling to accept the realities of a changing world and its evolving priorities.

    Reply
  2. joe

    There is some great information and points of view in this comment thread… However, Id also be interested in what Hams have to say – what are their experiences and what have they done to correct or minimize the interference…. Sounds like a great opportunity to make some money selling the industry a solution… just as hams (unsung heros) have done for the advancement of radio for the world. Hams have been authorized by governments to operate in the least desirable portions of the spectrum since the advent of radio… and they alone have turned lemons into lemonade….
    joe

    Reply
  3. Edward

    I wonder myself if this is a violation of FCC part 15 rules. I notice this in the standard Prius Hybrid, but it is still listenable. A Tesla zipping down the street may not be noticed by someone listening to AM stationary. But inside the vehicle is a problem. Is there a loophole in the FCC regs. or is it the FCC, US marshal’s do not yet know Elon Musk’s wrist size for handcuffs?

    Reply
    1. Laurence N.

      I doubt it. There are many devices that put out RFI that makes listening to AM and SW a pain, and they’re within limits. The car is just one of those combined with enough metal to make it easy to make a mess. Could they do something to shield it, certainly. Is it illegal for them not do, almost certainly not. So it comes down to whether their customers will ask for it. I assume FM and whatever digital standard is available in the country are acceptable quality, so we’ll see how important AM is to those people buying such cars.

      Reply
  4. Mark

    More like car manufacturers wanting to force more and more to digital media. Like radio manufacturers, they don’t want to make AM radios, If I go into Currys today It would be a challenge to find an radio that is not FM/DAB only and I can’t even get DAB in this part of Ireland, coverage is poor and only the National broadcaster is on DAB as none of the commercial companies are interested. Most radios today with Am are only designed for strong signal areas and are poor quality.

    Our national broadcaster ( RTE ) is shutting down the Longwave 252 Khz transmitter next year ( 2019 ) due to them saying it costs too much to run, BS , the signal covers the whole Island of Ireland and well into the U.K with a single transmitter, DAB ? lol DAB = Joke.

    Anyway, I had a Nissan leaf for 3 years ( great car ) and AM reception was ok, a bit muffled due to narrow filtering but it was pretty decent.

    Now I drive the BMW i3, forget it , AM is useless as soon as the slightest power is applied to the drivetrain electronics. The i3 is carbon fibre and there’s only some Aluminium but the chassis is 100% carbon Fibre. Am in the i3 is disabled due to this reason but I was able to re-enable it but it only works when stopped , otherwise the noise is horrid probably due to poor grounding because of the lack of steel. Sad thing is that it even has the 49 meter SW band !

    What an amazing car to drive !

    Reply
    1. Laurence N.

      There is a lot that goes into the RTE LW transmitter that pushes the cost rather high. There may only be one transmitter in operation, but it needs a lot more power than any other transmitter they use, plus some ability to have backup for that immense amount of power. Also, they have to have spares for the transmitter should it break, and people capable of repairing it. They may ask if there is a use case for it to justify that cost; I doubt they really care that much if the U.K. tunes in to that transmitter because British listeners aren’t paying for the broadcast. They are probably asking if there is an area of the country that cannot receive RTE through something else, and if the answer is no, they’ll feel free to shut down.
      I also doubt that cars are trying to force people to FM and DAB. They probably just don’t care that much, and assume their customers won’t either. Perhaps people will complain about this. I myself can’t really admit to having an AM station I choose to listen to when on the road; the ones in my area either have an FM or DAB station that gives me better quality or don’t interest me much anyway. Perhaps others feel differently, and they will possibly base their car-purchasing decisions on this.

      Reply
  5. Tom Servo

    An interesting mix of comments on that WSJ article. About 50/50 calling it a travesty versus “what is AM radio?” And even more interestingly, it seems that several people with electrics or hybrids WITH AM radios piped up to say their reception was fine. That lends credence to Ralph’s post saying they probably code out the radio so people won’t complain about interference.

    Gee, I hate to break it to them but a majority of all car radios suck on AM these days. Sadly.

    Reply
  6. Ralph

    AM car radios are well shielded and use an external antenna either a passive whip, glass wires or active shark fin style on the roof. Costs of correctly shielding EV AC cables and optimising the position of the antenna seems too much for the makers, particuarly those which are based on ICE models where the radio installation is different. Some just code out the AM band as a policy to avoid customer complaints and assume most wont notice its not there.
    It will be interesting to see if the full digital HD radio or DRM radio will work in an EV as it should have the range of AM and the immunity to interference.

    Reply
  7. Jason

    Considering most automotive radios use a ferrite-bar antenna for AM that is inside the radio, and thus inside the car dash, I’m sure there are some steps that can be taken to improve things dramatically.

    Reply

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