Norway wants to be the first country to ditch FM radio entirely

Norway wants to be the first country to ditch FM radio entirelyThis week, Norway's Ministry of Culture announced its plans to transition completely towards digital radio and turn off FM radio nationwide, according to an English report from Radio.no (the original announcement in Norwegian can be found here). The switch-off is scheduled to begin in January 2017, and it would make Norway the first country in the world to "decide upon an analogue switch-off for all major radio channels," according to the announcement.

"This is an important day for everyone who loves radio," said Thor Gjermund Eriksen, head of Norway's national broadcaster NRK, in a release. "The minister`s decision allows us to concentrate our resources even more upon what is most important, namely to create high quality and diverse radio-content to our listeners."

Several countries in Europe and Southeast Asia are in the process of similar transitions, but Norway is the first to set an end date (the country started this endeavor back in 1995). In these processes, the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) standard is typically what's being tapped to replace FM radio. DAB is a "free, over-the-air digital service that requires only a special receiver attachment on the listener’s end," according to NBC News.

The NRK release states that DAB already outnumbers FM radio content within the country—22 national channels are hosted on DAB versus only five being transmitted on FM. DAB's benefits include not just more channels (for better diversity in content), but NRK says national DAB networks have "equally high and partly higher population coverage" than FM with better coverage along roads in particular.

According to a TNS Gallup 2015 poll, more than 50 percent of Norwegian households already have a DAB-friendly radio and more than 50 percent of all daily radio listeners in the country do so digitally. However, "digitally" can encompass more than DAB. TNS Gallup also estimates 7.9 million radio sets will be affected by the FM switch-off, requiring those devices to be upgraded or recycled. And the poll found only 20 percent of private cars in the country are now equipped for DAB.

Elsewhere, such large numbers of devices that support FM radio and that format's near-universal coverage are only some of the reasons other countries have been slower to fully transition to DAB or other digital radio (see this take on the situation in the UK from The Guardian in 2010).

The DAB radio standard grew out of European research in the 1980s, and Norway was the first to implement it back in 1995. Here in the US, the FCC approved digital radio in 2002 with iBiquity's HD Radio as the chosen standard. However, as the LA Daily News recently pointed out, it's nowhere near as widespread as Norway's digital solution, and a full-transition to digital is not imminent in the US at this time.

Update, 4/20: This article has been updated to correctly note the Gallup figure that more than 50 percent of daily Norwegian radio listeners do so digitally, not necessarily through DAB specifically.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: technologies

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