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AAA World Article

Goodbye AM Radio

Add AM radios to the list of items some automakers have eliminated in recent years.

By James MacPherson

AAA World Article

Q. We recently purchased a 2017 BMW X5 xDrive40e from its first owner. We like it a lot, but the other day while stuck in traffic, we decided to tune to an AM station that has traffic reports. Guess what—there is no AM radio. We have FM, but no AM. We later called the seller, who said that he never noticed. The BMW dealer claims that there is too much interference from the vehicle for AM reception. Is that true?

Add AM radios to the list of items some automakers have eliminated in recent years. Other examples include spare tires, CD players and navigation systems. (These last two features have been made irrelevant for many buyers thanks to the widespread adoption of smartphones, which can hold or stream music and handle many navigation functions.)

As for the reason for the elimination of AM radio in your BMW, the dealer is correct. Its plug-in battery and gasoline-powered hybrid drivetrain generates enough static to make AM radio listening difficult, if not impossible. This problem also affects other vehicles that operate electrically, and as a result, some other automakers have eliminated AM reception in these models.

Fortunately, these cars often have HD radios. In markets where the operator of an FM station also has an AM outlet, you may be able to find the AM station’s programming on one of the FM station’s HD sub-channels. The problem here is that while the sound quality can be quite good, reception is often spotty. You may also be able to stream the programming you want through your smartphone.

We have driven some plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles that offer acceptable AM reception on stronger local stations, so the technical difficulties your dealer cites can be overcome. Apparently, BMW and some other automakers have decided that AM reception is not important enough for its buyers to justify the cost of quashing the static.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of AAA World.

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