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A lifeline for rural America

Decades ago, a bright 16-year old from Cape Girardeau began working at a local AM radio station, unaware that this job would change his life – and American politics – in the years to come. That young man was southeast Missouri’s own Rush Limbaugh – the most influential talk radio host in American history. While he’s no longer with us in the flesh, his legacy and fight to give Americans an alternative to the liberal media is alive and well today.

Today, AM radio is thriving, home to many popular radio programs that millions of rural, Christian, or conservative listeners tune into. Every month, 80 million listeners tune into AM radio to stay connected to the news, sports, and entertainment. Importantly, AM radio is often a lifeline for rural communities – whether it’s a farmer checking weather reports or a family monitoring the path of a severe storm system.

Recently, while appearing on “Real Talk with Riggin” on KZIM, host Faune Riggin and I started talking about a new threat to this popular news source for so many. The auto manufacturer Ford had just announced it would eliminate the capability for its 2024 car models to receive AM radio broadcasts. That includes on the F-150, one of the most popular trucks in the United States. Describing Ford’s planned action, Faune explained the move as censorship and an attempt to destroy her field of work. She’s right. Losing the ability to tune into AM radio will prevent millions of Americans from hearing their preferred sources of news. We’ve long known that big business too often fails to consider the needs of rural and conservative Americans, but this action seemed particularly tone-deaf.

So on May 15, I joined 101 members of Congress in writing Ford CEO James Farley protesting this decision and urging Ford to maintain AM radio. In our letter, we stated, “For rural Americans, the importance of having access to AM radio in their car or truck is particularly important. When Internet connectivity and cell phone service is limited or unavailable, these residents do not have as many options to access emergency information as those living in more densely populated areas. AM radio stations are often our constituents’ “go to” source for information in times of crisis. We cannot deprive them of that free, life-saving resource.”

I followed that up by coauthoring the AM for Every Vehicle Act, legislation that would protect this critical resource for so many in southern and southeast Missouri. The legislation would not only protect AM radio on future models, but would also require manufacturers to disclose up front to consumers when they are selling models that lack AM radio capability.

It is unacceptable that an effort to shut down AM radio got started, but the good news is because of our efforts, Ford announced on May 23 that it would reverse its decision and keep AM radio in all of its vehicles. That’s the correct decision. Rest assured, I will never apologize for fighting back against corporate America’s attempts to cut off important tools for rural Missourians.

Jason Smith

Jason Smith

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