As It Happens

Norway switches off FM radio, but this station is defying government order

As It Happens speaks with Norwegian broadcaster Svein Larsen about why he's refusing to switch from FM to digital.
Svein Larsen is still broadcasting on FM radio, despite Norway's transition to digital. (Radio Metro)

Story transcript

In a world first, Norway has switched off its FM radio service — but not everyone is celebrating the move to digital. 

The country completed its switch on Wednesday when digital audio broadcasting (DAB) was turned on in some remote regions. Now, listeners will have to use that format to hear national radio broadcasts. 

Officials say the move to digital will save money. In 2015, As It Happens spoke with Ole Torvmark, the head of Digital Radio Norway. He was confident people would embrace the switch, and said it would allow for more radio stations. 

But broadcaster Svein Larsen isn't convinced. Despite government orders, he has continued to broadcast on FM in Oslo. Larsen is the CEO of Radio Metro and the chairman of the Norwegian Local Radio Association. Here's part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Why have you continued to broadcast despite the government's orders to stop airing on FM?

I don't think that the government has actually the right to give that sort of order.

Even if Norway is looked upon as quite a flexible and rational society, it's not easy to take that fight.- Svein Larsen

Do you have a lot of support from your listeners in Norway?

I have great support, and more and more so when it becomes clear that this is actually what the government wants to do.

Don't underestimate the fight against the government and different agencies.… Even if Norway is looked upon as quite a flexible and rational society, it's not easy to take that fight. But we have done it, and we will see what will be the outcome.

But now the public starts to be aware that they actually are closing down not only the national network on FM, but also some of the local stations. But not all of them. Very many are going to continue to broadcast until 2022 — and even after that. But it's my stations in Oslo that they're looking to close down.

Nina Stensrud Martin and Olav Viksmo Slettan turn off the FM-band in favour of digital radio in Tryvannstarnet, near Oslo in September. (NTB Scanpix/Heiko Junge via Reuters)

How are they punishing you for not complying?

They want me to pay for every day I'm continuing to do this.

How much?

100,000 Norwegian Kroner (around $15,000 Cdn) per day. I think I have to discuss that with them because they cannot be completely unreasonable.

We have both. We continue to have FM and we can get digital channels. It's often a clearer signal [on digital]. We get more variety. It seems to be the way of the future. Why resist it? Why isn't it something that's of benefit to listeners?

Yes. But it's not a benefit to listeners to close down one of the distribution systems. I agree with you. I'm also distributing my radio stations on DAB, locally, here in the bigger Oslo area.

What sort of logic is that for media companies to operate that way?- Svein Larsen

I've never said that DAB as a distribution technology is not functioning. It's functioning. But the main question is, why do you switch off a system in Norway where we have 10 to 15 million radio receivers? And you just say to the public, you're not going to use this anymore because you need to buy new ones.

What sort of logic is that for media companies to operate that way?

I mean, you operate on behalf of the listener. Here, the big players are saying to the listeners: "No. You need to go out and buy new radio receivers."

Svein Larsen is also the chairman of the Norwegian local radio association. (Norsk Lokalradioforbund)

In 2015, we spoke with your head of Digital Radio Norway. He was confident that this was going to happen — that people in Norway would buy their digital receivers, they would switch over, and this wouldn't be an issue.

That's true. But I know that guy and that was his job. He's paid for saying that. Today, you can ask him the same question and he also admits that it's a big problem that only 50 per cent of the cars have DAB radios, obviously.

This is why they are pushing me also. They feel that if I represent the competition, then that is a problem here in the Oslo area — then that is a problem for other people to change to DAB because they don't feel that they need it. They have my radio stations and they feel happy about that. That's why they're so eager to close me down. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more of our interview with Svein Larsen, listen to the audio above. As It Happens has reached out to Ole Torvmark at Digital Radio Norway, but haven't received a response.