Static both literally and figuratively replaced Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s programs when they disappeared from more of the state’s FM network on Wednesday. At NRK’s chosen time of 11 seconds after 11:11am, its transmission equipment atop Oslo’s landmark Tryvann Tower was turned off, and all NRK stations are now only available via Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB+) in Akershus, Oslo, Vestfold and Østfold counties.
Norway’s controversial conversion to DAB+ doesn’t mean the FM dial in and around Oslo is completely silent quite yet. Commercial stations P4, Radio Norge and a handful of others will still transmit on FM until December 8. Small local radio stations, some of them sharing the same frequency and alternating for a few hours at a time with others, can still be heard until January 1, 2022. Then Norway will shut down its FM network entirely, and become the first country in the world do so.
In the meantime, the various and more numerous radio stations and programs now available only online or on DAB+ radios will likely be fighting to survive. Not only have Norwegian consumers been unhappy with the conversion to DAB, according to several public opinion polls conducted over the past year, they’ve either stopped listening to radio or simply are not tuning in as often since the DAB conversion began in January.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Wednesday that official ratings numbers from Kantar TNS show that NRK’s P1 (which long dominated radio in Norway), the commercial P4 and Radio Norge each lost more than 100,000 listeners between January and September. P1‘s market share fell by 3.3 points, to 42.1 percent. That marked the biggest single drop of all the channels, with 107,000 fewer listeners turning in.
NRK’s total listening audience fell by 144,000, and that was before another 1.8 million people living in an around the greater Oslo metropolitan area lost NRK on FM Wednesday. The numbers are thus expected to fall further in the months ahead. NRK officials claim they’re not worried, that a decline was expected and that they think listeners will eventually return.
Local radio stations, meanwhile, stand to reap the gains of NRK’s losses, with more listeners tuning in to them instead. “We’re very optimistic,” Pål Lomeland, leader of the local radio federation Norsk Lokalradioforbund, told Aftenposten. “The resistance to DAB is considerable, and only 38 percent of all Norwegian vehicles on the road today have digital radio receivers. We think that very many Norwegians will continue to listen to FM, and to us.”
Alternative programming available
In 2022, however, they’ll lose FM transmission as well because the state no longer will maintain the FM network. Until then, they intend to seize their opportunity to attract new listeners. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Wednesday that local radio stations in Oslo currently offer mostly alternative programming aimed at religious groups, minorities and even punk rockers. Dagsavisen cited, for example, radiOrakel at 99.3 on the FM dial, Pak Radio and Radio Tamil Musaram as among the offerings, along with ACEM radio for meditation and Radio Latin-Amerika. Turning the dial can also tune in programs in various languages including Turkish, Albanian, Somalian, Urdu, Persian, and Norwegian.
NRK officials continued on Wednesday to staunchly defend their exit from FM and the transition to DAB+ nationwide, with the conversion set to be complete in mid-December when the northernmost counties of Finnmark and Troms also make the switch. NRK contends the FM network was filled to capacity, while DAB+ can offer many more channels. One NRK officials compared the switch to the introduction several years ago of Norway’s law prohibiting smoking in public places: “Folks got used to it.”
Calls have gone out, though, for an investigation into the political processes behind the DAB+ conversion. NRK was also bracing for a new wave of questions and complaints. NRK was making information available on its website (external link, in Norwegian) and would take questions via email (email@example.com) or telephone (23-04-70-00).
Just before P1 went off the air Wednesday morning, NRK chief Thor Gjermund Eriksen extended an olive branch to listeners unhappy with the DAB conversion and feeling forced to buy new DAB+ radios or adapters: “I’d like to thank the public. They’ve had a job to do.” Seconds later, there was only static on P1‘s frequency, until a turn of the dial led to one of the small commercial stations where the song’s refrain was “Oh baby, baby it’s a wild world…”