The slow death of FM radio begins as Norway starts switching off

Norway has begun its controversial FM radio switch off today – despite big resistance from local radio networks and listeners.

It’s the first country to make the move – offering consumers a straight choice between online and DAB listening.

The switch-off starts in the North county of Nordland and will roll out across Norway throughout 2017.

It affects national stations only, with local radio continuing to broadcast on FM for the time being.

The Norwegian Government first revealed the plan in 2015, claiming the move would save €24m a year (NOK 200m) that could be re-invested into programme making.

It followed the radio digitisation mandate issued by the Storting (the Norwegian parliament) in 2011.

Norway’s former Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey said digitization will provide the opportunity for a greater range of radio channels and better sound quality.

Widvey also forecast a “greatly improved emergency preparedness system” as well as increased competition and new opportunities for innovation and development.

“Whereas the FM system only had space for five national channels, DAB already offers 22, and there is capacity for almost 20 more.”

thorhild widvey

“Whereas the FM system only had space for five national channels, DAB already offers 22, and there is capacity for almost 20 more,” she explained.

“In addition, more than half the population already has access to local radio on DAB, and there is considerable potential for further local channels.”

The proposal to switch-off in 2017 was made possible by 50% of Norway’s listeners moving to ‘digital listening’ in the country – fulfilling a Government target.

However, the Norwegian Local Radio Association (NLRA) then hit back with a Government report that suggested just 19% of people were listening to DAB radio in the country.

That meant, argued the NLRA, that the rest of the listeners covered by the 50% digital radio figure weren’t actually listening to DAB at all – but tuning into internet and DVB-T radio.

NLRA said the introduction of the DAB system in Norway was made possible through lobbying efforts of Digitalradio Norge AS – an organisation made up of large commercial and public broadcasters.

Further criticism has focused on those who don’t have DAB sets in the home or car and will be forced to shell out upwards of NOK 1,000 (£100/$120) to buy one.

Questions have also been raised over the quality of signal in rural areas.

Despite the opposition, the move went ahead and could be replicated elsewhere throughout Europe.

Germany had planned to switch off FM by 2015 but ditched the idea due to opposition in Government.

In the UK, the transition to DAB will happen when radio listening is 50% digital.

The current figure stands at 32.3% with DTV at 5.2% and online/app listening at 8%, according to the latest Rajar figures.

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