Trunk Line

Entries Tagged as 'Emergency'

Will AM radio save your ass when its own is grassed?

November 9th, 2023 · 2 Comments

emergency warning

A few months ago, here in Bloomington, Indiana, everyone’s cell phones blasted an emergency warning sound, along with the alert I screen-grabbed above. At the same time civil emergency sirens wailed all over town.

A TORNADO WARNING means a tornado has been spotted or close enough. (A WATCH means there is a risk of a tornado.) Note the last two words: Check media.

That we did, here in the basement where I’m sitting right now (in my office). First I went to our only local AM station, WGCL/1370 (also 89.7 on FM). On the air was an interview with a guy talking about his tattoos. Then I checked all the local and regional radio stations listed here (on the LocalWiki where I dutifully put them):

Nothing. On any of them. Not even on WFIU, which is the substantial public station at Indiana University.

While I fiddled around with a portable radio, my wife wisely asked, “Have you checked Twitter?” So I opened this browser, on this computer, searched for #Bloomington and #Tornado, and got all the information we needed: everyone was hunkering down, and nobody had seen a tornado. So, we all lucked out.

But the experience was relevant to the regulatory alarms that were being raised, about car makers’ plans to drop AM radio from their cars’ dashboard infotainment systems. For example, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey’s bill S. 1669: AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act of 2023  seeks to require continued inclusion of AM radios in cars, so IPAWS, the Integrated Public Alert And Warning System “described in section 526 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 321o)” (says the bill) would blast through AM radios, and hopefully save some listeners’ asses.

In a press release, the good Senator said this: “Unlike FM radio, AM radio operates at lower frequencies and longer wavelengths, enabling it to pass through solid objects and travel further than other radio waves.”

Not exactly. AM and FM work differently, but both have limited range, and every station has its own coverage pattern. And none of those equal cellular Internet and satellite radio in overall coverage, though both of those have limitations as well.

If we were to zero-base radio today, we probably wouldn’t have stations at all. We’d have streams and podcasts, over the Internet, coming from anybody who wants to put out what’s still called programming. It would all be delivered by fiber, copper wiring, and cellular wireless, perhaps with satellite broadcasting thrown in.

By the way, Markey’s ploy worked, to some degree. For example, Ford reversed its plans to drop AM radio from its new cars. But AM towers everywhere are being logged off land sold to make room for housing developments and shipping centers. Examples: WMAL in WashingtonWFNI in Indianapolis, and WFME in New York—to name a few among many.

The simple fact is that AM radio is moving toward obsolescence while its popularity drops toward zero. (Ratings on the whole are bad and getting worse.)

Of course, emergency notifications are important. The question of how best to blast out those notifications and then get good news coverage during and after an emergency can be answered in lots of ways. But keeping AM stations running may not be the best of those options.





Tags: Emergency · Radio

Following Sandy

October 29th, 2012 · No Comments

If Hurricane Sandy lives up to expectations, it will be the biggest storm to hit the Northeast in recent history, if not in all of it. With attention to infrastructure, I’m listing infrastructure-grade information sources here, and following the stories over at Riding out the storm, on my personal blog.

Web links:

TV and Radio (going southwest to northeast):



Tags: Emergency · Media · Radio · Roads/Bridges · Weather