Let me open by stating this: we’re not really AM radio guys at AV-DC. We’re much more about high-performance high-fidelity in-car sound, and we’ve got the portfolio and awards to prove it. But, AM radio is a common enough question at our Panorama showroom that I feel it warrants a mention.

101 Years of AM Radio History

The first AM radio transmission in Australia was in 1919, which makes the format 101 years old. FM radio was introduced in 1972, with Digital Audio Broadcasting taking the symbolic reins in 2011… Although there’s more to it than that, which I’ll cover later.

AM Radio Reception Problems

To understand why AM radio reception can be difficult, it’s useful to know that every single electronic device exists in opposition to AM radio – it’s extremely susceptible to interference, and we have more devices to interfere with it than ever, including power lines, mobile phones, computers, traffic lights, solar power, street lights, and the electronics which make your car run. Even components in a modern radio receiver itself present challenges to AM reception! It’s easy to hear this interference as you drive, even with a ‘good’ radio. What’s more difficult to hear is the content – AM has very limited frequency response and poor distortion characteristics.

Understanding the priorities of car makers can also help us understand why AM reception is becoming increasingly difficult. While it’s easy to fit an AM radio, it’s much more difficult to fit a good one, with an antenna system capable of making the most of it. Many new cars don’t even have a CD player anymore! Neither are seen as a priority by car makers, eager to fit new, competitive technology to their cars.

What AV-DC Can Do About It

This is why we’re here, isn’t it?! Look, I’m a realist, and I don’t enjoy taking people’s money for nothing, so it’s important to say:

There’s no ‘easy fix’ or ‘silver bullet’ to ‘fix’ AM radio reception problems, and I’m not going to pretend there is.

Anything we can offer to help AM reception is in an experimental capacity – you have to spend the money, and we have to spend the time and effort in order to see if it’s worthwhile. This isn’t a technical problem for which there is a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee (or even a money-back guarantee, for that matter.)

It’s not as simple as The Fonz smacking the jukebox, or a loose connection, or a magic booster to fit, but we can try and make sure your radio catches as much reception as it can. A high quality replacement antenna, mounted on your bull bar, at the edge of the bonnet, or ideally on your roof, has the potential to receive the best possible signal, as free as possible from the interference from your engine and car. These also go with the right cables and connectors to suit your specific make and model of car so it all works together properly.

Manufacturers of aftermarket car radios follow similar principles to car makers – they’re focused on bringing new technology to drivers. As such we don’t recommend a particular brand or radio above others specifically for AM reception.

AM Radio roof mount antenna
A roof-mount antenna has great reception characteristics when installed properly
AM Radio shark fin antenna
We can install roof mount antennas to help with AM, FM, DAB+ and even GPS reception.

Alternatives

I’d be a bit cheeky to suggest FM radio, but if you have a favourite AM station, there are viable alternative ways to listen to it. Most stations also transmit concurrently on DAB+ digital radio, and we can equip your car with a reliable, crystal clear DAB+ receiver and antenna. Many also stream online, so your phone can receive them, and play on your car radio via Bluetooth or Apple CarPlay. I often listen to interstate or even international stations by streaming them with an app like TuneIn, iHeartRadio and others.

As a qualified electronic engineer, I’m not going to argue against the advantage of AM radio; it’s a rugged transmission method, impervious to many physical obstacles and even aided by earth’s ionosphere. But for the long transmission range, nothing else about AM radio survives modern scrutiny.

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