Thursday 12 January 2017

National Radio Network Switch-over from FM to DAB+ in Norway

An unique but unpopular transition is not making positive news abroad. Except for the Norwegian Embassy in Washington.
Norway yesterday become the first country to cease FM radio broadcasting for national radio on-air channels. The switch from FM and old DAB to DAB+ broadcasting, is intended to save money, but critics are worried about the effect on drivers and listeners of small radio stations. The switch-off is set to cause considerable disruption to all radio listeners. News about this unique step in international media has been has been met with some surprise but also by doubt and distance;" it won’t happen here”.       

A positive hurrah from abroad comes from the Norwegian ambassador in Washington DC. who writes on Facebook: The United States was the first country to put a man on the moon. Now Norway becomes the first country to shut down the FM network in order to only use DAB radio. “That’s one small step for a country. And one giant leap for mankind.” 

The reaction to his statement has not been welcome in the US capital. And indeed not at home where two out of three Norwegians are against closing the FM network according to polls.

The switch-over is occurring county by county, starting with Nordland, in the north of Norway. Oslo, the capital, will turn off FM broadcasting in September, and the process will be completed nationwide before Christmas. In September Norway will hold national elections and the two biggst political parties - the conservatives and the social-democrats - are set to lose angry voters to other parties if the transition is not successful.

The Culture Ministry estimated that it would save 180 million kroner a year, or about $25 million. However the bill for consumer will be quite higher. According to a Nordea Bank expert car owners will have to pay about 23 billion kroner ($2,7 billion) to in order to have DAB+ installed in older cars and also booking DAB+ for new cars at manufacturing point (the in-car market is still far to small in Europe even if it is considerable in Norway and the UK).

Still about two million cars in Norway still are not equipped with DAB receivers.  And foreign cars, buses and trucks coming in from abroad are not equipped with DAB.  Norway’s closest neighbours Finland and Sweden have rejected the idea of replacing FM with DAB.

Stephen Lax, a senior lecturer in communication technology at the University of Leeds in England, said he was not certain that Norway’s switch would portend a trend. Norway has a small and relatively affluent population that can be convinced into making the transition, in spite of the costs for the consumers, he said to New York Times. Norway’s switch could prove a symbolic moment in the history of radio broadcasting, but not a significant one, in the sense that it’s not going to start a snowball rolling.

Marko Ala-Fossi, an adjunct professor at the School of Communication, Media and Theater at the University of Tampere in Finland, added a cautionary note. Norway is now conducting a massive experiment with the future of radio on a national scale with no guarantee of success, he said. You can lose older listeners without any prospect of recruiting younger listeners. Ala-Fossi added, Norway would find it hard to retreat from its decision, as it had become “a matter of national prestige.”

The transition is unique in its kind because it is not based on consumer demand on a free market but rather by government coercion. Behind this is heavy promotion by some companies and groups as the public service broadcaster NRK and the lobbying organisation WorldDAB.

It’s a controversial move, and one that has proven somewhat unpopular with Norwegians. Other nations are eyeing Norway, and asking themselves if a wholesale abandonment of broadcasts between 88 and 109 MHz, in favor of DAB broadcasts designed to expand listener choices — in the eyes of Norwegian leaders — is a wise idea.  Could such a scenario happen in the U.S.? It’s highly unlikely.There are some 6,746 commercially licensed FM stations can be found in the U.S. and its territories, writes Adam R Jacobson a veteran radio industry journalist and analyst in Radio+Television Business Report.

All Norwegians are not expected to scrap their FM receivers because approx 200 local commercial and community radio stations will stay on FM. In addition to this about 60 % of Norwegians have access to quite popular cross-border Swedish FM radio.

Read more:
Norway Becomes First Country to Start Switching Off FM Radio (New York Times)
Why Norway’s FM Radio Debacle Couldn’t Happen Here (Radio+Television Business Report)
Norway Is First Nation to Switch Off FM Radio (Bloomberg Technology)

Norwegian Broadcast Engineer Discusses Impending FM Shutdowns (Radiomagazine)
Norway Kills The FM Radio Star – Could It Happen Here? (Audioholics)
Norwegian Embassy in Washington

Also read
Norwegians Still Do Not Want DAB Radio