If Norway Can Shut Off Their FM Radio Stations, Why Can’t We? Wait, We Tried? Oh…

Around the end of the 90s, a van stuffed with broadcast equipment started touring the country, offering people a chance to experience what we were told would be the successor to FM radio. Digital Audio Broadcasting–DAB–promised (and delivered!) CD-quality audio.

Within a few years, plenty of Canadian stations applied for and received DAB licenses and began experimenting with DAB broadcasts. Anyone with a DAB receiver within range of a transmitter could enjoy the best-sounding radio broadcasts you could didn’t take it long for things to get

Unfortunately, it didn’t take it long for things to get irrecoverably f*cked up.

First, consumers weren’t keen on forking out cash to buy new DAB receivers. Ever after Radio Shack started selling them for around $100, no one cared. Second, auto manufacturers had their hands full with the satellite radio systems coming online and weren’t interested in adding yet another layer of complexity (0r cost) to their entertainment systems. And third–and most importantly–the Americans wouldn’t play ball.

The US wasn’t thrilled with the area of the radio spectrum chosen to for DAB broadcasts. As I recall, it had to do with something with wanting to reserve those frequencies for military purposes. Still hurting from the failed experiments with AM stereo, the Americans preferred HD-Radio. The great push to have DAB adopted in Canada collapsed. And while other countries around the world–including the UK and most notably Norway, which is now shutting off its FM transmitters in favour of a full DAB system–it’s dead in these parts.

HD-Radio isn’t “high definition” anything; instead, they are digital signals that piggyback on existing FM frequencies. And after years of pushing HD-Radio on everyone in America, it’s starting to gain a foothold in Canada.

The CBC takes it from here.

Norway may be switching off its FM radio network in favour of digital but don’t expect the same type of tune-out to happen in Canada any time soon.

The shift to digital radio technology — touted for its clearer sound and potential for more channels — is taking place at a much slower, wait-and-see pace here, say broadcasters and industry analysts.

That’s not to say we haven’t already tried. During the late ’90s and 2000s, Canada experimented with the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) model that Norway will shift to this week — and it was a flop.

Duff Roman was instrumental in trying to make DAB a success here as president of Digital Radio Rollout Inc., a consortium of private and public broadcasters, but ultimately couldn’t woo the Americans to follow.

“We tried our best to get them onside. They didn’t want to do it,” he said.


They were already working on adopting HD Radio, another type of digital radio technology that’s now slowly seeping its way into Canada. It is developed by a private company and delivers digital versions of the audio from FM stations via a special receiver.

Digital receivers can cost hundreds of dollars and inability to convince consumers to buy into a new system was part of the reason that DAB stalled.

The CRTC stopped renewing DAB licenses after 2012. Now, it oversees 14 Canadian stations who have started experimenting with HD Radio in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and a few other cities.

These stations have largely been using it as a way to simulcast their AM talk radio stations with less fuzz and clearer audio.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38573 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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