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Norway is killing FM radio - against the wishes of most listeners

There are no plans to phase out FM radio in Ireland, the Department of Communications has said.

98-year-old Judith Haaland sits next to her decades-old radio set in Stavanger, Norway.
98-year-old Judith Haaland sits next to her decades-old radio set in Stavanger, Norway.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

NORWAY BECAME THE the first country in the world to start shutting down its FM radio network in favour of digital radio this week – a bold move that will be watched closely by other countries around Europe.

Supporters of Digital Audio Broadcasting say DAB offers better sound quality and more channels at an eighth of the cost of FM (frequency modulation) transmission, which was first launched in the US in 1945.

The authorities also say DAB offers better coverage, allows listeners to catch up on programmes they have missed and makes it easier to broadcast emergency messages in times of crisis.

“The big difference and the main reason behind this big technological shift is that we want to offer a better radio service to the whole population,” said Ole Jorgen Torvmark, of Digitalradio Norge, a company part-owned by public broadcaster NRK.

Norway, generally a technology-friendly country, has been preparing for the switchover for years – DAB and FM have existed side-by-side since 1995.

There are currently 22 national digital stations, along with around 20 smaller ones. The FM spectrum has room for a maximum of only five national stations.

The big switch-off began in Nordland, in the country’s north, on Wednesday and will be expanded to the rest of the country by the end of the year, making millions of old radios obsolete.

‘It’s too expensive’ 

But many think the shift is premature.

A poll in Dagbladet newspaper in December found 66% of Norwegians are against shutting down FM, with only 17% in favour.

While around three quarters of the population have at least one DAB radio set, many motorists are unhappy, as only about a third of cars currently on the road are equipped.

Converting a car radio involves buying an adaptor for between 1,000 and 2,000 kroner (€110 to €220), or getting a whole new radio.

“It’s completely stupid, I don’t need any more channels than I’ve already got,” Eivind Sethov, 76, told AFP in Oslo.

It’s far too expensive. I’m going to wait till the price of adaptors comes down before getting one for my car.

Source: euronews (in English)/YouTube

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.

But Torvmark insists the time is right.

“It’s clear that when there’s a big technological change, some people ask difficult questions and are critical,” but “most listeners are ready,” he said.

Every week more than 2.1 million listeners – half of the listeners – listen to stations that wouldn’t have existed without this technological transition.

Part of the reason Norway is the first country to switch away from traditional analogue transmission is to do with topography – it is expensive to get FM signals to a small population scattered around a landscape riven with fjords and high mountains.

Closely watched 

The process will be watched closely in Europe by Switzerland, Denmark and Britain, where listeners have taken strongly to digital radio and which all plan plan to shut down FM radio broadcasts at some point in the future.

The UK has not set a date but has said it will switch off the FM signal when 50% of all radio listening is digital – the figure is currently over 35% – and when the DAB signal reaches 90% of the population.

There are no plans to phase out FM radio in Ireland, although legislation passed in 2009 provides for the future development of digital services here. Streaming apps from RTÉ and commercial broadcasters also allow listeners around the country to access a wide range of local, national and specialist stations.

“RTÉ operates a DAB service from five sites around the country and there is also a commercial trial DAB service undertaken by a company called DB Digital Broadcast,” a spokesperson for the Department of Communications said in a statement.

The trials are being operated from Three Rock in Dublin, and in the Cork area.

The statement added:

While there are no plans at present to rollout DAB services on a national basis, the BAI will continue to monitor and consider the potential for the development of digital radio in Ireland.

© – AFP 2017 with reporting from Daragh Brophy 

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