Norway on Wednesday will become the first country in the world to start shutting down its FM radio network in favour of digital radio, a bold move 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,” Ole Jorgen Torvmark, the head of Digitalradio Norge, a company owned by public broadcaster NRK and commercial radio station P4.
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 begins in Nordland, in the country’s north, at 11:11 AM (1541 IST) tomorrow before expanding to the rest of the country by the end of the year, making millions of old radios obsolete. But many think the shift is premature.
A poll in Dagbladet newspaper in December found 66 per cent of Norwegians are against shutting down FM, with only 17 per cent 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 euros), 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.”
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.
But Torvmark insists the time is right.
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.