Norway begins FM radio axe
FM signals struggle in remote areas of Norway. Source: Wikimedia
Norway is to become the first country in the world to start switching off its analogue radio signals this year.
FM signals are being turned off this week in favour of digital audio broadcasting (DAB).
It is claimed that the digital signal gives better quality and coverage than analogue services and for about an eighth of the cost, although users complain of far shorter battery lives.
Norway’s deep fjords, mountains and scattered communities make FM expensive to operate.
“Norway has many mountains and valleys that the robust nature of DAB can help with,” said Stephen Lax of the UK’s University of Leeds. “Additionally, its FM radio infrastructure was coming to the end of its life, so they would’ve needed to either replace it or fully commit to DAB anyway.”
“DAB can run at lower power levels so the infrastructure electricity bills are lower. Also the sound quality is better,” added Lax.
Oslo’s parliament took the decision in May 2011.
An estimated 200 million kroner (US$23.4 million) would be saved, according to the government.
Oslo claims the move would free up cash for broadcasters to invest in programming. But battery-powered DAB radios run for a fraction of the time of an analogue set.
Norwegians are also concerned about the move’s potential impact on the elderly and drivers.
The Dagbladet daily paper said a poll last month found that two-thirds of Norwegians said the authorities were moving too quickly.
By the end of 2017, national networks will only be available on DAB, while regional broadcasters have five years to make the switch.
Although an estimated 70 per cent of Norwegian radio listeners already use DAB, many say they will have to make costly upgrades.
A new car DAB radio costs around 4,000 kroner (US$468) in a country where vehicles are heavily taxed.
“Norway is not prepared for this. There are millions of radios in homes, cottages and boats that won’t work anymore and only around 25 per cent of cars in Norway have digital radios or adapters,” said Svein Larsen of the Norwegian Local Radio Association. FM was an American invention in 1933.
Marius Lillelien, head of radio at the national broadcaster NRK, said: “Of course there is a lot of nostalgia in radio. That’s one of the reasons this switch is so controversial. But that means people love radio and nostalgia is an asset to us whether we are broadcasting in analogue or on DAB.”
Switzerland, Britain and other countries considering a switch to digital networks will watch the Norwegian process with interest.