Saturday 28 October 2023

Political Agreement Call Off FM Radio Switch-off in Bavaria

Strong industry opposition put an end to the media authority's plans

The threatened FM shutdown in Bavaria in 2025 is off the agenda, as evidenced by the coalition agreement signed on October 26, 2023 by the CSU and the Free Voters. The agreement states that they want to extend the FM frequencies until 2035. "FM will only be switched off when the financial viability of the private radio industry allows this," the parties write.

A big row about FM and DAB had arisen in the German state of Bavaria before the Media Days conference in Munich, despite the fact that the state is where DAB radio has the strongest position in Germany. Large parts of the commercial radio industry have protested against the authority's plans to begin shutting down FM as the current broadcasting license expires in 2025.

For three decades there has been discussion in Europe that the DAB system should replace FM. This has so far only happened in Norway (only for nationwide radio). Switzerland would have done this a couple of years ago but postponed a shutdown after loud opposition from parts of the commercial radio. The other day the government decided to postpone this date for another two years until 2026.

In Bavaria, there has long been strong opposition, especially from ANTENNE BAYERN, the only nationwide commercial radio company. Together with around 50 out of a total of 80 regional and local radio stations warning that abandoning FM could mean a loss of listeners and significant revenue.

Current trends show that DAB+ is becoming increasingly important in Bavaria. At the same time, Internet radio is growing in popularity, although it has so far brought broadcasters less advertising revenue. Despite the steady decline in FM usage in the state, about 40 percent of people age 14 and up still listen to radio via FM. In the rest of Germany, listening to FM as well as to the Internet is higher than for DAB+

A number of broadcasters opposing a fixed end date for FM proposed by the media authority Bayerische Landeszentrale für neue Medien (BLM) emphasize the importance of diversity in radio. They claim that the planned FM shutdown could put many local radio stations out of business. They estimate listenership losses of 20 to 30 percent and a reduction in sales of 20-35 million euros annually for private radio stations in Bavaria if FM is phased out. In comparison, the costs of FM are much lower, up to seven million euros.

In an appeal entitled "Radio diversity in Bavaria is at stake!", the broadcasters urged politicians to regulate FM use by law without a fixed end date or with the possibility of extension until 2045.

Felix Kovac (Chairman of the Association of Bavarian Broadcasting Providers e.V. (VBRA) and CEO of ANTENNE BAYERN GROUP) tells Radioszene that the closure of FM planned by BLM threatens the financial viability of private radio stations and costs many jobs. It would be a fatal signal for Bavaria as a media location, especially since neighboring federal states take the opposite approach and instead expand FM. Kovac says that's why we're against the BLM's plans, especially because we don't think they're responsible at all. Only the parliamentary legislature can make such a fundamental decision. This position is supported by a recently prepared legal opinion by the long-time federal constitutional judge Prof. Dr. Dr. Udo Di Fabio.

It is also consistent because an FM shutdown would have noticeable consequences for the people of Bavaria. You are deprived of a familiar reception path to listen to the radio. Almost every household and every business in Bavaria has at least one FM radio, which can then only be recycled as hazardous waste. Even in the car, traffic news and warning messages can no longer be received via FM. This cannot be right. We are therefore committed to a long-term extension of the FM and DAB+ allocations through a legal solution so that local, regional and national radio stations have a secure future in the federal state and the information rights of the Bavarian population are protected.

VAUNET (Verband Privater Medier) which is the national organization for commercial radio and television - supports the urgent letter of the many Bavarian private radio stations to Bavarian politicians about the relevance of FM and speaks out clearly against the FM shutdown plans.

From VAUNET's perspective, a politically forced FM-DAB migration would have drastic consequences for the Bavarian private radio landscape. The private radio stations make an important contribution to media diversity and, as independent economic enterprises, must be able to make their own decisions - especially when it comes to the question of which distribution channel they want to use to reach their listeners, says Dr. Nina Gerhardt, Vice President of the Radio and Audio Services Department at VAUNET and CEO of RTL Radio Deutschland.

Even in Bavaria, FM should be available to private radio stations as the main distribution channel for radio as long as it is needed. For the competitiveness of private radio providers, it is crucial that the digitization of radio is market-driven and that market regulation is technology neutral. Overall, fair access conditions to all relevant transmission channels must be ensured. This applies especially in view of the threat of worsening imbalance in the competition with TV, according to VAUNET.

Some Facts:

DAB radio was developed in Munich during the 1980s and was launched in 1995 by e.g. public broadcasters BBC, NRK and SR. It is one of several systems for terrestrial digital radio and, unlike FM and the Internet, is not a world standard for radio. Other systems are DRM, CDR, HD Radio and 5G Broadcast.

All countries in the world have so far retained FM (including Norway for local radio). Switzerland could be the first to completely shut down FM. Sweden has several times, most recently in 2015, decided not to replace FM with DAB, like Finland and the Baltic states.

Read more

- Bayern: UKW-Abschaltung ist vom Tisch (CSU)

- Debatte um UKW-Aus in Bayern: VAUNET appelliert an die Bayerische Staatsregierung, die UKW-Verbreitung im Koalitionsvertrag zu schützen (Pressmeddelande VAUNET).

- Drohende UKW-Abschaltung in Bayern: Über 60 Privatradios wenden sich mit Brandbrief an Politik (Radioszene)

- Der Bundesrat verschiebt den UKW-Ausstieg auf Ende 2026 (DAB-Swiss)

Also read

FM Radio Still Going Strong in the Netherlands

FM Network in Germany Deploys SmartFM AI

FM Remains the Economic Basis of Commercial Radio in Germany

Flood Disaster Gives Second Thought About Not Retaining FM Radio

DAB Transition in Norway Contributes Radio Fast Losing Listeners