The end of FM Radio

Now that Norway is replacing FM radio with digital radio, will other countries follow suit?
In January 2017, Norway became the first country to start shutting down its FM radio network in favour of going digital. (Berit Roald/AFP/Getty Images)

On January 11th at 11:11 am, Norway began shutting down its FM radio for good. They're the first country in the world to get rid of FM broadcasting in favour of going digital.

FM Radio and Digital Audio Broadcasting (known as DAB) have existed side by side in Norway since 1995, but officials at the Ministry of Culture decided that the time had finally come to say goodbye to the older transmission.  

Norway's public broadcaster, NRK has been running the switchover process for the government.

So what was the thinking behind this decision?

Jon Branaes is the head of NRK P1, NRK's radio network, the larges in the Norway. 

"This move comes about because we have to recognize that radio can't stand alone as the sole analog medium of the modern world," Jon says. "We need to make sure radio is still relevant and available to people."

Norway's Culture Ministry estimated it would save 180 million kroner a year (about 28 million Canadian dollars). "That's what we pay for electric power for a year," says Jon.

Rather than using government funds to fix and replace the old worn-down FM grid, he says it makes better sense to invest in new digital transmitters that use a lot less energy and provide a lot more channels.

However, not everyone is pleased about the switchover. A poll in Norway's Dagbladet newspaper in December found that 66 percent of Norwegians are opposed to the shutdown, with only 17 percent in favour.

"I think that people don't have anything against digital radio… they just don't want to change their habits," says Jon.

If you ask people 'would you like us to take this away?' the chances are that two-thirds will say 'no' to whatever you ask them about, so we can't really expect that this shift of technology will be applauded by everyone, but we can still be fairly confident that it will work out smoothly in the end.

So, will other countries follow suit?

"I believe we will get to a point where FM switch off will happen in more countries, but I don't think we will see it on a larger scale just yet," says Jon. "It's a long run. I believe Switzerland will be next within, let's say, 5-7 years."

Jon insists that digital radio will succeed in the end because it gives people a lot more to choose from. "If we can do that, radio stays relevant and it won't die with our listeners."

Here in Canada, we tried to bring in Digital Audio Broadcasting to replace FM radio back in the 90s, but the public just didn't bite, and we ended up keeping FM.

With that in mind, what does the future hold for Canada? 

CBC spokesperson Emma Bedard recently said that, "At this time, we have no plan to abandon FM radio, but we are starting to explore digital technologies for radio broadcasting."


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