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Norway Kills The FM Radio Star – Could It Happen Here?

by January 12, 2017

Norway became the first country to begin a campaign of shutting down FM radio signals this week. The nation’s “Radio Digitization” program began on 1/11 at 11:11 am – a start time with a very “digital” feel. The FM shutdown will run through 2017 county by county, until the last FM signal is squelched and the airwaves over Norway go cold and silent in mid-December.

FM radio was once the centerpiece for generations of music. The very term “FM radio” conjures nostalgia for a time when everyone’s music came from only a handful of local stations. The same hot new song that everyone was talking about could often be heard from different directions, spilling out over a humid summer night.

By the late 70s, FM also had its detractors in a generation of young people frustrated by the centralized control of popular music by an FM oligarchy. The term “FM rock” was used as derisive shorthand for formerly relevant 60s musicians who had grown old and overblown. For all their technical intricacy the music was often sterile with self-indulgent arena performances complete with laser shows. Rock was ripe for disruption. But the beat of FM rock would go on, with many of those same young people of the late 70s and 80s bringing rock and roll back to its roots and driving it to dominate the FM airwaves right through the 90s.

It’s funny how much passion and social significance can be assigned to an electromagnetic spectrum of analog frequencies that blanket a nation. Ask yourself - how would Americans feel if the country was about to permanently switch off FM radio?

Why Norway Killed FM
Norway broadcaster NRK says the country decided to shut down FM stations and turn to Digital Audio Broadcasting to take advantage of the format’s many digital features – including better sound quality. But the Norwegian government says the switch will save the nation some 180-million Kroner per-year, or about 25 million dollars. Due to Norway’s natural landscape with mountains and fjords, covering the country in FM radio signals was never easy. According to Oyvind Vasasen at NRK, “The costs of maintaining an upgraded FM system would in the long run affect the quality of programs we can offer the listeners.

Predictably, dropping FM radio signals has brought a spike in radio sales to Norway. DAB radio sales tripled in the months leading up to Christmas. The demand was particularly high in the county of Nordland, the first county to lose FM signals on Jan. 11.

Are Nationwide Shutdowns of FM Likely to Spread to Other Nations?
Large-scale movement away from FM toward Digital Audio Broadcast could very well spread in the EU. Sweden has already considered the idea but is probably (wisely) waiting to see how the conversion works for its Scandinavian neighbor.

But it will be a long time before the US is ready to shut down FM. Part of the reason is that there is no obvious radio successor to replace it. The DAB radio standard has never really caught on in the US. In fact, many radio stations across the US and Canada use HD radio, which can send a digital signal over conventional radio frequencies.

But that doesn’t mean the place of FM radio is safe. On the contrary, the business has been on a decades-long downturn.

According to a 2016 report by Strategy Analytics, AM/FM radio is still the top source of in-car infotainment in the US. But the study concludes that daily use of traditional airwaves is in steady decline. Not surprisingly, the percentage of consumers who even want a conventional car radio that includes AM/FM and a CD player is also trending downward.

The Real Radio Killer
Traditional broadcast radio in North America probably has nothing to worry about from DAB, HD or satellite radio. Instead, America’s FM airwaves killer is likely to be digital networks. As digital expands and becomes more stable, cost per Meg declines, and in-car integration becomes easier with new systems from Apple, Android and Microsoft, fewer people are switching on the radio.

Any government program aimed at replacing FM with a competing broadcast standard is more likely to simply kill broadcast radio for good. Many feel this way about Norway’s effort to move to DAB from FM. For many, the in-car radio is just a Bluetooth conduit for content available on their phone or other in-car devices.

As Norway kills FM with a dramatic final flick of a switch, our method of execution may be different but we could be in the midst of the dying days of FM on our side of the ocean too. For us the death of FM will be a slow, gradual decline as the only ones left listening are an aging demographic that remembers when FM airwaves once pulsed with the dreams of a young and passionate generation.  

 

About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

roadrune posts on January 25, 2017 08:46
haraldo, post: 1167916, member: 32412
To be honest, there is really no big discussions on this topic at all as I have seen… Mostly ignorance to the topic as far as I can see, there are some threads on the topic of overly compression on some of the DAB transmission and how horribly quality it really may lead to, but still nothing big…

We probably see it as something inevitable to happen and better get it done…

Well, i would say that most people who DOES care about this here in Norway is against it.

It is basicly a political decision with no other agenda then money.

Now they actually throw away brand new FM radios from stores….
TLS Guy posts on January 24, 2017 13:09
Hi Ho, post: 1168599, member: 12381
I never listen to music on the radio but I do listen to talk radio a lot and considering the number of listeners that a station like KIRO FM gets here in Seattle I can't imagine FM going away any time soon. My car has HD radio and I live in an area where that cuts in and out. It seamlessly switches between HD Radio and regular FM but it is obvious when the static cuts in that it is no longer receiving the digital signal.

With that said, I don't even listen to the actual broadcast that much anymore. I download the podcasts of all the shows and listen from my iPhone so if FM was turned off tomorrow I imagine I wouldn't care that much. However, with the lack of HD Radio adoption in the US I'm sure many consumers do not have HD Radio equipment in their cars or homes and the radio stations would lose a lot of listeners if they didn't have the FM broadcasts.

Finally, satellite radio is a joke. My car came with 6 months of free Sirius/XM and I played around with it for a couple days before deciding it wasn't worth using even for free. The sound quality is horrendous. It sounds like a 96kb MP3 stream from the 90's. It also cuts out under every bridge and when the road is lined with trees on the south side (which is a lot of roads in Washington). Apple Music offers much better sound quality and the ability to choose any song I want for less money.
The problem in the US is that if analog FM goes, then HD goes as well. If we wanted terrestrial radio broadcast to continue, we would have to go to DAB or preferably DAB plus. We should have adopted DAB plus in the first place and not that iBiquity IBOC nightmare we did.
Hi Ho posts on January 24, 2017 12:31
I never listen to music on the radio but I do listen to talk radio a lot and considering the number of listeners that a station like KIRO FM gets here in Seattle I can't imagine FM going away any time soon. My car has HD radio and I live in an area where that cuts in and out. It seamlessly switches between HD Radio and regular FM but it is obvious when the static cuts in that it is no longer receiving the digital signal.

With that said, I don't even listen to the actual broadcast that much anymore. I download the podcasts of all the shows and listen from my iPhone so if FM was turned off tomorrow I imagine I wouldn't care that much. However, with the lack of HD Radio adoption in the US I'm sure many consumers do not have HD Radio equipment in their cars or homes and the radio stations would lose a lot of listeners if they didn't have the FM broadcasts.

Finally, satellite radio is a joke. My car came with 6 months of free Sirius/XM and I played around with it for a couple days before deciding it wasn't worth using even for free. The sound quality is horrendous. It sounds like a 96kb MP3 stream from the 90's. It also cuts out under every bridge and when the road is lined with trees on the south side (which is a lot of roads in Washington). Apple Music offers much better sound quality and the ability to choose any song I want for less money.
Irvrobinson posts on January 22, 2017 09:57
TLS Guy, post: 1167997, member: 29650
That is only one bulb and I assume no dimmers. Also you may be close to the transmitter. I'm 45 miles from the MPR transmitter. Analog FM is a dead loss here now unless most of the light are out and all of them closest to the antenna on the roof.

Six bulbs total, no dimmer, but I probably am quite close to the transmitters. I chose the three stations to sweep the band: 88.5, 99.9, and 105.7MHz.
TLS Guy posts on January 22, 2017 09:14
MattyB, post: 1168009, member: 79972
HD Radio in the USA is nowhere near as ubiquitous as DAB is in the UK which surprises me somewhat. You would think that a high-end receiver with all the other bells and whistles would have HD radio, but no most manufacturers put a very vanilla AM/FM tuner in their systems, even their top-of-the-range kit. Even RDS is quite rare.

That is absolutely true.

Receivers and Pre/pros used to have HD. However initially the quality was not that good and stations were, and still are, slow to adopt HD. Only the public radio system adopted it in a big way. So manufacturers put the money into streaming licenses. The cost to a station of adding HD is enormous. The system is really complex and trouble prone as a result.

The next issue is that the Internet streams in the US are poor with most being low bit rate MP3 streams. The US is very backward and slow to adopt higher bit rates and above all the AC 3 + codec with MPEG DASH. So our Internet radio streams are just not really listenable.

The it all gets compounded by the fact that the stand alone FM tuner with HD is now a rarity and expensive. The best vintage FM analog tuners are vintage.

Then we have the huge problem in the US that due to bribery and “Back Handers” we got into the wrong digital broadcast system. Unlike DAB and DAB plus which can stand alone, our hybrid iBiquity IBOC system requires an analog FM signal to carry the HD signal. It requires that to carry the duplicate of the analog and HD 2 and HD3, which are additional channels.

So in order to phase out FM in the US we would have to start from scratch and go with DAB plus. That would mean everyone would need new equipment for terrestrial broadcasts. The only alternative would be to go to streaming only.
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