Norway looks set to become one of the first countries in the world to fully digitalize radio, after the government minister in charge of cultural issues decided to shut down the FM radio network by the end of 2017. It means Norwegians will need to buy new digital (DAB) radios or adapters to keep using their conventional radios.
“The Parliament has already decided that DAB will take over, the question has been whether that will happen in 2017 or 2019,” government minister Thorhild Widvey of the Conservative Party told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. She said the conditions for an earlier conversion have been met, so she’ll order that the FM network be phased out, starting with Nordland County in Northern Norway on January 11, 2017.
After that, the conversion from FM to DAB radio will proceed on a regional basis, “and listeners will get plenty of information well in advance,” Widvey said. She claimed the FM dial has exhausted its capacity and she’s convinced that DAB radio will be able to offer more stations and better options for listeners. It will also be cheaper for NRK to operate with just digital radio instead of having to maintain two systems.
Protests rose almost immediately, since the move will basically render conventional radios worthless without adapters and force many consumers to buy new DAB radios. Most cars aren’t equipped with digital radio either and Norway’s national automobile association was concerned that DAB coverage isn’t good enough to allow motorists to listen to the radio even in cars with DAB radios. Taxi drivers are opposed as well, stressing how they rely on the radio and aren’t ready to convert to DAB.
Widvey acknowledged that “there will be challenges,” but she’s forging ahead anyway, even though neighbouring Sweden and Denmark have postponed their own digital conversion. Most other European countries won’t have gone either by 2017, but Widvey seemed keen on the idea of Norway paving the way. She also noted that DAB adapters should be widely available, to allow consumers or tourists from abroad to use the radios they already have.
Asked whether it was reasonable to pass the costs of a radio network change over to the consumers, Widvey replied that “very many people have already bought these adapters and there’s a wide variety of choices and prices for DAB radios. We saw this sort of conversion when people moved from older TVs to flat-screen TVs. It’s just part of technological development.”
NRK reported that 56 percent of radio listeners were already turning in to DAB radio at the end of 2014. That was among the conditions for early conversion to digital radio, that more than half the population would be prepared, Widvey said.
The Progress Party, which shares government power with Widvey’s Conservative Party, remains firmly opposed to forced conversion to DAB radio. “I am fully aware that the Progress Party was against this, but it was approved and the government has concluded that the demands have been met to allow shutdown of the FM network,” Widvey said.