2014 BMW i3 Hill hold

BMW i3 Interference Killed the AM Star. The NAB Wants it Back

It’s something that you’ve either spent hours listening to, or something you’ve never heard of. Yet in today’s modern world of digital music downloads, Sirius satellite radio and the portable music player, there’s still a place for the humble AM radio station.

The BMW i3 has plenty of things its multifunction display can do. Find an AM station isn't one of them.

The BMW i3 has plenty of things its multifunction display can do. Find an AM station isn’t one of them.

Yet as anyone who has purchased a BMW i3 will tell you, while BMW’s first mass-produced electric car comes with a choice of very capable audio systems, not one features an AM receiver.

The reason? BMW was worried the powerful 125 kilowatt electric motor powering the i3’s rear wheels would produce just enough electromagnetic interference on the frequencies used by AM radio to make listening to it unpleasant.

As a consequence, the brand known for no-compromise solutions had to make a one: ditch the AM radio, or face consumer complaints about poor reception.

Given the very few complaints we’ve heard form BMW i3 drivers about this since the BMW i3 launched almost a year ago, we’re assuming the lack of AM radio isn’t a major issue for them. But one group of individuals — namely the U.S. National Association of Broadcasters — is upset about the decision.

And it wants BMW to rethink its position.

Unlike its competitors, BMW has completely skipped AM radio functionality in the BMW i3 electric car

Unlike its competitors, BMW has completely skipped AM radio functionality in the BMW i3 electric car

In an official letter posted earlier this week to BMW North America President Ludwig Willish, the NAB has asked BMW North America to rethink its position on AM receivers in the BMWi3.

“AM radio has long been associated with America’s love affair with the automobile, and that connection remains undiminished as a free source of local news, music and entertainment,” the letter states. “Today, more than 4,700 AM radio stations provide millions of Americans with local news, weather and emergency information every day.”

Pointing out that the AM band is still extensively used across the U.S. for everything from talk radio to local community channels, emergency response information and sports coverage, the NAB says BMW needs to reverse its decision on the i3’s radio.

AM is alive and well, it insists, and BMW needs to continue to support it.

“NAB appreciates BMW’s concern that the i3’s electric motor could cause interference with AM signals and leave customers frustrated,” the NAB continues. “However, BMW’s electric car competitors have address this AM signal interference sufficiently enough that their vehicles still come equipped with AM radio.”

Interference from the BMW i3's electric motor is supposedly to blame.

Interference from the BMW i3’s electric motor is supposedly to blame.

Moreover, the NAB has been working with the Federal Communications Commission to figure out a way to remedy interference on the AM band. It even suggests to BMW that it’s willing to use its own expertise to help BMW find a solution for poor AM reception in the i3.

Singed by Gordon H Smith, the president and CEO of the NAB, the two-page letter is carefully written and extends a hand of partnership to BMW in order to solve this problem in a way that benefits both parties.

Whether a solution will be found or even investigated remains to be seen.

Do you have a BMW i3? Do you miss not having an AM station in your car? Or perhaps you have an electric car and hate the AM reception you get due to interference from the electric motor?

Leave your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.


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  • Michael Thwaite

    AM killed by electric motor interference? Tell that to my Ford Focus or my last two Electric BMWs that had AM and didn’t suffer any kind of issue. They also have/had CD and DVD players onboard, something else the i3 deleted. Someone at BMW is given’ it pork pies!nnnI don’t mind progress, I love the DVD free thinness of my MacBook Pro and I can’t remember the last time I needed a cassette player but, I don’t think that we’re quite ready for dropping AM, especially AM in HD (AAC@64kbps) which is absolutely amazing for talk radio.

    • vdiv

      So why did BMW remove the AM radio? How much money could they possibly save from this move? And if BMW is truly a European brand where is my shortwave radio? 🙂

      • Michael Thwaite

        I’m going to guess that the $0.50 that they saved in electronics will be dwarfed by the savings to be had from dropping all of the instructions and accompanying translations from the manuals.nnnWhat bothers me the most is the notion that electric cars generate electrical fields. It won’t be long before we’re back arguing about EMF!

  • vdiv

    While the NAB is at it why not get a TV receiver in these cars as well? Of course while driving it will be audio only, but while parked, charging, on a picnic, etc. it will be great to be able to watch broadcast TV.

  • Dennis Pascual

    The lack of AM Radio is a contributing factor to our turning down the delivery of our Electronaut Edition i3… http://transportevolved.com/2014/08/11/walking-away-bmw-i3-electronaut-edition/ nnnIn a crowded radio market like Los Angeles, the Sports Radio/News and others are often relegated to the AM band. With the advent of AM-HD, the quality of the broadcast seems better. But the important thing that AM Radio does vs. FM is the wide local reach that it carries over the other. nnnIn an earthquake, the most reliable source for LOCAL broadcasts are often the local TV stations and the AM Radio News stations. So, it is imperative to have the ability to receive these broadcasts for those of us who want the ability, just in case.nnnThe Model S is susceptible to some of the same issues regarding interference, but it is better than removing the feature entirely. The Active E also had the interference at times, but it was better than my experience on the Model S.

    • AM HD, thank for reminding me. How about HD Radio as well?

    • All the safety broadcasts are on AM as well.

  • Peter

    I need AM to catch the SF Giants even if they’re having a rougher ride than I am right now. Tried internet radio, but MLB blocks game transmission on TuneIn and Heart Radio. I plan to drag out my portable AM radio and leave it in the car.

  • Isn’t most AM radio these days hateful right wing stuff? Perhaps it can be used as a low cost community pirate radio technology for college radio and positive news. That would be all were really missing.

    • Dennis Pascual

      The all News stations (with no real political bent) in Southern California is on AM. Aside from emergency coverage, the day-to-day need is traffic on the 5s… (this is important because the navigation may or may not route one to a “clear” freeway that is only clear on the sensors, because there is a police investigation that stopped cars from traveling over it.) As was the case with my navigation yesterday.

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