Thoughts on Norway’s Plan to Kill Off FM Radio. Don’t Worry About It.

There’s been quite a bit of chatter about Norway’s plan to kill off FM radio in 2017. But before we get too freaked out, we need to look at the situation more carefully.

Norway first announced a plan to transition from FM to DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) more than a decade ago. Back then, DAB was predicted to be the next big thing. The hitch? You needed to buy new hardware. New radios for your home, your car–everywhere.

Canada experimented with DAB for years and radios even went on sale at Radio Shack stores. But no matter how much the industry pushed for widespread adoption of the new technology, the public didn’t care. The whole proposal was abandoned and all experimental transmitters were shut down.

DAB was DOA in the US because of concerns that the frequency spectrum allegedly impinged on military frequencies. America tried (and is still trying) with something called HD Radio. If you’ve never heard of HD Radio, then that should tell you something about how well the American public has responded.  Canada is still thinking about getting involved, but enthusiasm is, well, tepid.

However, DAB has seen adoption in a few other countries.

Digital Audio Broadcasting

 

The countries in dark blue have regular DAB broadcasts with varying amounts of success. Those in a slightly lighter blue are conducting trials and tests. The light purple countries have
“expressed interest” in the technology. Grey means “We don’t care about DAB.” And then there’s Canadian in yellow, which stands for “abandoned.” (Image credit: Saftorangen)

The UK went whole hog into DAB only to eventually hit a brick wall. You may remember the BBC’s plan from a couple of years ago to shut down a bunch of DAB stations–including the very excellent 6 Music–because of low adoption rates. The only reason 6 Music survives is because they were saved by a huge grassroots campaign.  I’ve heard very little about any substantial successes with DAB throughout Europe. Bueller?

Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems to be very happy with FM. About 90% of the population of Canada and the US uses FM radio every week. And then there’s this crazy thing called “the Internet” which delivers digital programming to devices we already have via cellular data and WiFi. Hasn’t smartphone technology made DAB redundant?

So why bother with DAB at all?  It was a technology conceived and rolled out before the Internet and smart phones came along. You’ll have to ask the Norwegians why they still think this is a good idea. FM radio will be with the rest of us for a long time yet.

 

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

One thought on “Thoughts on Norway’s Plan to Kill Off FM Radio. Don’t Worry About It.

  • April 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm
    Permalink

    Smartphone technology hasn’t made DAB redundant. It’s very difficult to maintain a stable enough signal to stream radio in a car. Try it and you’ll see what I mean. And there’s a significant subscription cost for data – especially in Canada. I have listened to DAB radio in-car in the UK and it works well on the move with little or no interruption to the broadcast.
    I would welcome a terrestrial digital radio solution for Canada. FM reception when in-car or walking around the Metro Vancouver area is very unstable, with lots of hissing, fading and other distortions. Satellite radio has a very high subscription fee, suffers from poor sound quality and suffers from frequent drop-outs. Maybe HD radio will be the solution, but I’m not seeing any interest at all.

    Reply

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