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Norway Begins Getting Rid Of FM Radio

Radio Dial

In what is likely a sign of things to come, Norway has become the first country to start the process of ending radio broadcasts in the FM spectrum and moving to digital radio:

Norway opened a chapter in telecommunications history on Wednesday, becoming the first country to cease FM radio broadcasting. The switch, to digital broadcasting, is intended to save money, but critics are worried about the effect on drivers and listeners of small radio stations.

The move to “radio digitization” was decided by Parliament in 2011, and a timetable was announced in 2015. At 11:11 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 11 — a time chosen because it was easy to remember, according to the national broadcaster, NRK — nationwide radio channels began stopping FM broadcasts, switching to a system known as digital audio broadcasting that proponents say offers a wider range of broadcasting options and greater sound quality.

The change 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 by Dec. 13.

Norway’s Culture Ministry estimated that it would save 180 million kroner a year, or about $25 million.

FM broadcasting originated in the United States in the 1930s and arrived in Norway in the 1950s. Other countries have considered dropping FM broadcasting, including Britain, Switzerland and Denmark, but no decision has been made; Sweden considered the switch but abandoned the idea.

Some Norwegians, like Benjamin Stage Storm, a hospital doctor living in Bodo, in Nordland, said the change was no big deal for him and his family.

“We don’t listen much to radio, and in the car we have an SD card reader,” which lets users play prerecorded music stored on tiny digital cards, he said in a phone interview, “so we listen to music on that, almost old-time mix tapes.”

He added: “We do listen to radio shows, but we get them from podcasts or off the SD cards.”

Dr. Stage Storm said, however, that the government and NRK were spending a “vast amount of resources on shutting down a functional system and at the same time pushing lots of people into scrapping their otherwise well-working radios.”

The change is good news for radio sellers, however.

Camilla Tully, a spokeswoman for the retail chain Clas Ohlson, said the demand for digital radios had grown steadily since Parliament’s vote in 2011.

“The sale of DAB radios exploded before Christmas, and the sales tripled over the last couple of months,” she said in a phone interview. “Before Christmas, we were sold out of several models. These days the demand is particularly high in Nordland, both for DAB radio and DAB adapters for car stereos.”

Oyvind Vasaasen, an official at NRK who is overseeing the change, said that Norway had been an “early mover” in digital radio, introducing internet radio broadcasting as far back as 1995.

Given the size of the country — with its mountains and fjords — and its small population, it is particularly expensive to offer both FM and digital audio broadcasting, he said.

“The costs of maintaining an upgraded FM system would in the long run affect the quality of programs we can offer the listeners,” he said. “Digitizing the radio media is part of the modernization of Norway.”

It’s not clear from the article whether this decision on any AM broadcasting that may exist in the country, or even if AM radio is much of a factor in the Norwegian market, but it is an interesting development in the evolution of radio nonetheless. Here in the United States, radio on both the AM and FM bands remains a viable market in large part because of the fact that radios are a ubiquitous feature in automobiles and so many Americans commute to work on a daily basis. Additionally, AM and FM radio often provide up to date local news and political coverage that is lacking from newspapers, websites, and even local television stations. In recent years, of course, AM and FM radio in the US have had to compete with satellite radio, but given that such services are subscription-based and require either an additional receiver in the car or a radio capable of receiving satellite signals. As a result, both AM and FM radio have managed to evolve and survive notwithstanding all of the other alternatives begging for the attention of Americans throughout the day.

Because of this, and because of the large number of AM and FM stations in the United States, it’s not at all clear that a change like the one going on in Norway is in the cards for Americans anytime soon. In fact, digital radio does exist here the U.S. and has for the past several years at least but it has never really taken off largely because radios capable of receiving the signal are hard to come by to say the least. As a result, there isn’t much content on American digital radio and what content there is just typically just the rebroadcast of what’s already available on traditional radio. Combine that with the size of the U.S. compared to Norway and other countries, and the prospect of seeing this same kind of change here in the U.S. seems pretty dim for the foreseeable future, especially given the fact that entertainment options in automobiles are expanding well beyond radio to include DVD players and more reliable Internet access that includes streaming video services. Meanwhile, traditional radio will likely continue as it is, albeit perhaps in a small, more localized format that provides up-to-date information about weather and traffic along with the kind of information and entertainment that Americans have come to expect during their commutes.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    OT, but this is pretty funny.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Rick Zhang says:

    It may be from the generational gap, but I haven’t used a car radio for 10+ years. After I started driving, I could sync my phone to my car speakers via bluetooth, and play the content (whether music, audiobook, podcast, or internet radio) that I want. Why would anyone want to relinquish control of their content and have lower quality audio to boot?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  3. Pch101 says:

    @Rick Zhang:

    Good radio will broaden your horizons and expose you to different content that you would have probably missed..

    I have more than 2,000 albums, and I still use the radio in order to find music that was otherwise unknown to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. Franklin says:

    @Rick Zhang: Sometimes I listen to radio to find new music. And not just music similar to what I already like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. cjdavis says:

    Also off topic, Obama just gave Biden the Presidential Medeal of Freedom

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Ol' Nat says:

    We already did it with TV. Why not radio?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. CSK says:

    Sorry to introduce a third OT, but apparently in the Trump administration, The Office of the First Lady will be known as The Office of the First Family. I guess Melania plans on remaining in New York.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  8. al-Alameda says:

    @CSK:

    Office of the First Family

    Did they, the minority-elect first family, think about the acronym – O.F.F. – at all?
    It’s pretty obvious how that’s going to be used.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. Guarneri says:

    Does this mean Steely Dan has to hit the studio again?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. al-Alameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Does this mean Steely Dan has to hit the studio again?

    They’re all busy doing 401K Tours now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. CSK says:

    @al-Alameda:

    I don’t think they think much about anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. I only listen to podcasts in English while driving. One day I was refueling, and the guy from the gas station looked at me with wonder, thinking that I was listening to the radio and managed to get radio from New York.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Matt says:

    @Rick Zhang: People who are just trying to survive and keep their +10 year old cars running?

    God damned talk about being disconnected from the working class…

    @Ol’ Nat: Because when they were making the move with TVs you could get a free convertor that allowed you to continue to use your regular antenna and TV. There’s no way you can do that with the vast majority of radios.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. Pch101 says:

    It’s not clear from the article whether this decision on any AM broadcasting that may exist in the country, or even if AM radio is much of a factor in the Norwegian market

    According to The Guardian, Norway got rid of its AM (medium wave) and longwave broadcasting some time ago. (Longwave never caught on in the US, but it used to be common in Europe.)

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/11/norway-begins-switching-off-analogue-radio

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW the US already has digital radio in the FM band and if you’ve bought a recent car you may have it. For example, I can tune to 88.1-1, 88.1-2 and 88.1-3. The first of these is compatible with older FM tuners but the other two, which “share” the bandwidth, are digital only. Right now, those are limited to relatively low power broadcast so you have to be correspondingly close to the tower.

    We could provide for a lot mor stations in the FM band if we went all digital and allowed for power increases but that would obsolete all the older tuners.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Tyrell says:

    I usually listen to am: sports, talk, information programs, traffic, swap and shop, news, and church programs. FM has hardly any sports broadcasts around here. I pick up news on am that does not show up on the main news tv networks. And I don’t hear much weather forecasts on FM.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Tyrell: I’ll try once more: tyrell, why are you disqualified to purchase an Obama health care plan?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. C. Clavin says:

    It’s funny that Doug is so overwhelmed by the utter ridiculousness and daily scandals of the PEOTUS that he is writing posts about Norwegian Radio.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  19. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @C. Clavin: On the other hand, I hope that Doug is not dealing with some personal/family concerns. Best Wishes

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Tyrell says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: I am on my wife’s work plan. It is decent, not great; and certainly does not seem worth what they are now charging. But I called dozens of insurance agents to see if they could be the price: most just laughed. Since I am eligible for her plan, the AHA tells me that I can’t get on their plan. I used to get insurance through the private market. It was a great plan, but it started going up too much. But It won’t be long until I can sign up for Medicare, so everything will change then. And I have three crate full of all this Medicare and Med supplement materials that come in the mail everyday, and phone calls all the time. I also get all these invites to free dinners and get information and listen to a pitch. The information load is overwhelming. There is Medicare, then different parts and supplements. Overall I will come out better on the monthly costs.
    The big problem is that the huge numbers of baby boomers who are now getting old.
    Thanks for your interest.
    interesting article: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/13/health/obamacare-doctors-opinions-aca/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Gustopher says:

    I know it’s unseemly to complain that my pet issue isn’t getting a blog post, but with everything going on, we get three Monica Crowleys and a Norwegian Radio?

    How about:
    – VW and Takata indictments
    – Joe Biden continuing to be awesome, and now having a medal to prove it
    – More than half of Americans cannot absorb a $500 surprise bill without going into debt
    – FISA Court actually denying a wiretap (very rare!)
    – Paul Ryan townhall
    – Squirrels are just rats with fluffy tails
    – Tillerson confirmation hearings
    – Sessions confirmation hearings
    – Trump press conference oddities

    Is everything ok with our hosts? Is it Trump fatigue? He’s not even president yet… Did our hosts all meet up at a bad restaurant and all get food poisoning?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  22. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    I have more than 2,000 albums, and I still use the radio in order to find music that was otherwise unknown to me.

    Stuff like Pandora has introduced me to a lot more music–and far broader in terms of genre–than anything on commercial radio. The one thing I’ve lost from not listening to FM much anymore is awareness of today’s hits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Moosebreath says:

    @Gustopher:

    “Squirrels are just rats with fluffy tails”

    Not true, but it is true that pigeons are rats with wings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    Guess there’s been no other news of import in the political world today, huh?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  25. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    Do you really think that a guy who has over 2,000 albums was singing the praises of Top 40 radio?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:
    Agreed…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    Do you really think that a guy who has over 2,000 albums was singing the praises of Top 40 radio?

    No, I was just commenting that FM radio (in my experience at least) is still pretty limited, and I’m not just talking about Top 40. There are of course the various formats–AC, classic rock, modern rock, country, urban, classical, and so on. I used to listen to a range of stations and there was still a great deal of repetition within each format. JACK FM which began in the 2000s was a partial attempt to break out of these limitations, and there’s also a college station in my hometown that plays a lot of obscure stuff you don’t ordinarily hear elsewhere. But I didn’t truly start to broaden my horizons until I moved beyond FM altogether. Cable, Satellite, and Internet just offer a far more versatile range than FM ever did.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    You’ve never heard of college radio or NPR?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  29. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101: ????

    You read my post, right?

    there’s also a college station in my hometown that plays a lot of obscure stuff you don’t ordinarily hear elsewhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:

    I am on my wife’s work plan. It is decent

    It’s not decent if you are paying $600 a month.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    Is everything ok with our hosts?

    I’ve noticed that some of my R acquaintances seem still trapped in a mental loop going: Oh boy, we won! Oh my God, Donald Trump! Oh boy, we won! Oh my God, Donald Trump! ….

    Off topic, but in response to Trump’s ethics noncompliance, Chaffetz (need I say R – Utah) is calling the head of OGE on the carpet for mentioning it. I guess Chaffetz sounds more like chutzpah than I thought.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    I make a comment about “good radio”, and you start going on about popular radio formats to which I wasn’t referring.

    Use of the qualifier “good” would imply that I don’t think that all of it is good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  33. CSK says:

    William Peter “The Exorcist” Blatty has died, age 89. Multiple myeloma.

    And Beijing has threatened “a military clash” if Trump goes forward with his intent to restrict access to islands in the South China Sea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. grumpy realist says:

    @Moosebreath: I always think of squirrels as indefatigable demanders for MOAR BURDSIED

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. michael reynolds says:

    So, is OTB closed for business now?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Weird, isn’t it? I hope they all got suddenly busy with lucrative and creatively satisfying projects…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @wr: Doug is still active on Twitter and Facebook, so I don’t know whats going on with OTB. SAD

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Gustopher says:

    Steven and James are also alive on Twitter, and neither mentions horrible stomach flu or anything. I suppose someone could ask what’s going on, but it might be more fun to speculate.

    – A terrible stomach flu that allows them to only concentrate for 140 characters at a time?
    – Crippling ennui?
    – They hate us?
    – The traditional format of moderate right blogger with more liberal commentariat with a few hard right members has fallen apart as the Republican Party moved to the far right and Trump ascended — now the moderate right and the left sound identical and there’s none of the give and take that made blogging feel worthwhile?

    I suspect it is the third one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  39. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    I make a comment about “good radio”, and you start going on about popular radio formats to which I wasn’t referring.

    Those “popular radio formats” make up almost everything on FM. College radio and NPR are a very tiny slice and not what most people have in mind when they refer to FM radio in general.

    You seem to have taken my initial comment far more personally than I intended. I wasn’t questioning your tastes, I was simply expressing my opinion, based on my experience, that FM radio overall isn’t a very good place for broadening one’s musical horizons and that there are much better venues for that nowadays. Rick Zhang mentioned listening to Internet radio, and I can tell you from experience that a lot more versatile music choices are available there than on even the best of FM. Of course the ‘net also provides plenty for those who are only interested in sticking to what’s familiar to them. It all depends on what the person is seeking. The point is that the diverse music choices are there, and that’s not something you can truly say about traditional radio–or at any rate not to the same degree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    I suspect a version of the depression that swept through the liberal world. Oddly guys like James Joyner are in worse shape. We know what we’re fighting for, what we’re fighting against, and we have a team name, Democrats, and even have a mascot.

    Moderate Republicans are political orphans. Joyner either has to do a Christie and crawl back inside the GOP tent or admit the horrifying truth, which is that he’s actually slightly more comfortable with Team Blue. Because we may be wrong by his lights, but we aren’t batshit crazy.

    Either that or they’re arguing over ad revenue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    Those “popular radio formats” make up almost everything on FM.

    That has absolutely nothing to do with my point.

    As usual, you resort to strawman arguments. I never claimed that everything was good, just that the good stuff is worthwhile.

    Perhaps this analogy will get through to you: If I were to claim that Restaurant X makes a good hamburger. preparing a lengthy list of bad burger joints and McDonald’s locations does not do anything to rebut my comment about Restaurant X. The way to rebut my point would be to demonstrate that there is something wrong with Restaurant X, not to prepare a list of its rivals that aren’t so great.

    You’ve decided to argue at length about a point that I never made. It’s not the first time that you’ve bothered with this routine, and I suspect that it won’t be the last.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  42. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    If I were to claim that Restaurant X makes a good hamburger. preparing a lengthy list of bad burger joints and McDonald’s locations does not do anything to rebut my comment about Restaurant X.

    No, it would be as if you were to recommend a restaurant and then after I disagreed it would turn out you only like its Tuesday Night Special and its soup and that you regard everything else on the menu as crap.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: For a moderate, mainstream Republican, having the current iteration of the Republican Party win has to be like getting a wish granted by an evil monkey’s paw. Yes, the Republicans are in charge and have a chance to reshape the country to match their values, but … ew, the wrong Republicans are in charge.

    I actually assume our hosts all just took off somewhere for the long weekend, and are casually poking twitter, but assume someone else is posting here.

    Or they are all working on grand and amazing posts. Perhaps something along the lines of “if the third amendment explicitly prohibits the government from quartering troops in someone’s home, does that mean they can quarter non-troops in private individuals’ homes? (bonus: what about quartering embryos in uteruses?)” Probably not that specific article, but something that will blow us all away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  44. Pch101 says:

    @Kylopod:

    You struggle with analogies and reading comprehension.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1