Cruz Touts AM Radio in Name of Free Speech

Sen. Ted Cruz | Image by lev radin

Two U.S. senators are at odds over whether the government should help preserve AM radio, an important platform for political talk radio.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the AM For Every Vehicle Act this week, which, if enacted, would mandate that automakers include AM radio capability in their vehicles.

Cruz said the bill to protect AM radio was necessary because the format allows for the dissemination of diverse viewpoints via the popular talk radio format and remains important for people in rural areas. Historically, many listeners have also depended on AM radio to broadcast emergency communications, as it can still operate even in the event of a power outage.

The senator’s main argument for preserving AM radio emphasized its role in enabling freedom of speech.

“I rise today in support of free speech and in support of AM radio. It is widely enjoyed by Americans across the country. Over 80 million Americans listen to AM radio every month. They rely on it,” Cruz said in his remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday. Cruz explained the reason why AM radio has earned a reputation as an outlet for the masses:

“AM radio promotes a diversity of views. Why? Because the barriers of entry to getting into AM radio are relatively low. To start an FM station is quite expensive. An AM station is much cheaper to start and to operate, and as a consequence, we see a beautiful array of diversity of views reflected on AM radio nationally.”

Cruz noted that the bill — which he introduced with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) — had overwhelming bipartisan support, including an equal number of Democrat and Republican co-sponsors (22 each). Cruz attributed this partly to AM radio being indispensable when it comes to emergency communications:

“Number one, in times of disaster, AM radio is the single most reliable medium for communicating about a natural disaster. I remember when Hurricane Harvey hit my home city of Houston and the entire Texas Gulf Coast. The enormous challenges.

“People relied [sic] on AM radio when other forms of communications go down. AM radio is consistently the most resilient to help people get out of harm’s way. Whether it is getting out of the way of a hurricane or getting out of the way of a tornado or getting out of the way of a forest fire or any other disaster, AM radio is there to help people know where to go and how to keep their families alive.”

Cruz also argued that large rural populations in states like Texas still depend on AM radio for information because newer technology does not necessarily reach them on their farms and ranches.

Cruz put the bill up for passage via unanimous consent, but it was blocked by his Republican colleague, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul blocked the bill by objection, even though Cruz attempted to cater his arguments directly to the Kentucky senator and appealed to his First Amendment bona fides.

“I would note that one aspect of AM radio is particularly important to Texans and to the citizens of Kentucky and the people all across this country, which is that AM radio is a haven for free speech. AM radio is a haven for people to speak, even if their views are disfavored by the political ruling class,” Cruz said.

“Talk radio is an oasis for conservative speech. Rush Limbaugh would not exist without AM radio. The views of my friend, the senator from Kentucky, would be heard by many fewer people without AM radio. Whether Mark Levin or Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck, allowing free speech is important.”

“I believe these automakers stood up to remove AM radio as part of a broader pattern we see of censoring views that are disfavored by Big Business,” Cruz added.

Though Paul is noted for his libertarian beliefs, which may have informed his objection to the bill that would place a mandate on private companies, there is some indication he might still come to support the measure.

In October, Paul spoke positively about AM radio in a call with a Kentucky AM station, saying, “I’ve always been a big fan of AM radio. It’s really been a good point for open and clear debate, and allows for a longer discussion format than you get sometimes on television,” according to Radio INK.

Paul’s refusal to agree to the unanimous passage of the AM For Every Vehicle Act was tied to his seeking to substitute an amendment to the bill that would put an end to the federal government’s electric vehicle tax credit, the senator’s office told The Dallas Express in an email. The office also referred to Paul’s floor speech on the bill, in which he suggested, “rather than mandate the instillation of AM radio, let’s stop subsidizing the purchase of electrical cars and the removal of AM radio.”

Since the bill did not pass by unanimous consent, it will be up to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to schedule it for a vote.

However, Cruz pointed out that the mere threat of the bill had already caused at least one major automaker, Ford, to reverse course and keep AM radio capability in its 2024 models.

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