Norway Starts FM Radio Shutdown In Favour of Digital Radio

On the 11th of January, 2017, Norway started shutting down its FM radio network in favour of digital radio, a bold move watched closely by other countries around Europe. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) offers better sound quality and more channels at an eighth of the cost of FM transmission, which was first launched in the US in 1945. DAB also 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.

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 started in Nordland, in the country's north region. The rest of the country will follow with complete shutdown of FM radio expected by the end of 2017, making millions of old radios obsolete.

Though this is a great technological shift, many Norwegians do not welcome this move. A poll in Dagbladet newspaper in December found 66 percent of Norwegians are against shutting down FM, with only 17 percent 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 with DAB systems. Converting a car radio involves buying an adaptor for between 1,000 and 2,000 kroner (110 to 220 euros), or getting a whole new radio.

So while the switch to digital will reduce the cost of transmission for broacasters, it is listeners who will pick up much of the cost of the 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.

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 percent of all radio listening is digital - the figure is currently over 35 percent. Other countries, including France, where neither commercial nor public broadcasters have been convinced by the new technology, are lagging behind. We will have to wait and watch how the other European countries approach this technology shift. For now, all eyes are on Norway.