Norway Is Killing FM Radio Tomorrow

On Wednesday, Norway will become the first country in the world to start shutting down its national FM radio network in favour of digital radio. Norwegians have had years to prepare, but the move is still catching many off guard.

98-year-old Judith Haaland sits next to her decades-old radio set in Stavanger, Norway. By the end of the year, national networks will be available only on Digital Audio Broadcast, or DAB. (Image: AP)

FM radio and Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) has existed side-by-side since 1995, but officials with Norway's Ministry of Culture has decided that the time has finally come to retire the older transmission medium.

The FM apocalypse starts tomorrow morning in Nordland, the country's north. Beginning at 11:11AM local time, the FM network will be taken down in a gradual process that will take the entire calendar year. The transition from FM to DAB won't happen overnight, allowing Norwegians to adapt to the change.

Advocates of DAB say the format sounds better, and that it offers more channels at a fraction of the cost. DAB currently hosts 22 national stations in Norway, along with about 20 smaller stations. The FM spectrum can only fit five national stations. Also, DAB's digital nature allows listeners to catch up on missed programs, and it's easier for authorities to broadcast emergency messages in times of crisis. DAB also makes sense in a country like Norway, with its fjords and high mountains. It's expensive to get FM signals to such a small and scattered population.

Despite the fact that Norwegians have had years to prepare, most say the shift is premature. As reported in AFP, 66 per cent of Norwegians are opposed to the shutdown, with only 17 per cent in favour. "It's completely stupid, I don't need any more channels than I've already got," said 76-year-old Oslo resident Eivind Sethov in an interview with AFP.

It's estimated that millions of old radios will become obsolete by the end of the year, the majority of which are found in vehicles. Converting a car radio requires an adaptor that costs between 1000 to 2000 kroner ($157 to $315). As the AFP rightly points out, "So while the switch to digital will reduce the cost of transmission for broadcasters, it is listeners who will pick up much of the cost of the transition."

Other countries could soon follow suit. The UK says it will drop the FM band once half of all radio listening is digital (the figure is currently at 35 per cent), and when the DAB signal reaches 90 per cent of the population. In Australia, DAB is available in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Darwin. FM radio, which has been active in North America since the 1940s, shows no sign of being replaced any time soon either in the United States or Canada. That said, a DAB-friendly infrastructure is starting to emerge. There are around 4000 stations using HD radio technology in the United States, and HD radio receivers are now common fixtures in new cars.

Given the historic precedent in Norway, FM's days may be numbered.

[AFP via The Star Online]

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