It’s official – Norway’s Ministry of Culture has announced that FM radio will no longer be available in Norway by 2017. In a country that only offers five FM stations, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), which currently offers 22 stations, is a higher-quality choice in a format available in both Europe and Asia.
“This is an important day for everyone who loves radio,” said Gjermund Eriksen, head of the broadcasting station NRK, according to Radio.no. “The minister`s decision allows us to concentrate our resources even more upon what is most important, namely to create high quality and diverse radio-content to our listeners.”
Although DAB (and its newer incarnation, DAB+) will still arrive as a broadcast signal, FM is analog – which means after the five FM stations go dark, Norwegians will be required to have a different receiver in order to listen to radio.
According to Peter Weber of The Week, 44% of those in Norway who listen to the radio are tuned to FM; by his count, about 8 million radios will be useless in Norway after the fated January 11th date. “Listeners will have access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality,” said Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey in a statement. “Digitization will also greatly improve the emergency preparedness system, facilitate increased competition and offer new opportunities for innovation and development.”
However, according to Digital Radio News, the change did not come about by consumer demand; it was brought about via lobbying by Digitalradio Norge AS, a group comprised mostly of larger commercial and public broadcasters. Because of this, there is opposition growing; at least two political parties (The Progress Party and The Green Party) are against the switch off of FM. In fact, DRN has reported that Finland decided against DAB in 2009, Sweden attempted it and has been publicly criticized, and Denmark has placed the FM moratorium on hold.
While Norway is the first country to officially put the ax to FM, the Huffington Post predicts that that is a trend the US is not likely to follow. In an interview with Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Huffington Post reported that about 21% of all FM radio stations in the US are transmitting a digital signal, and that we know it as HD Radio – with systems having been in operation for the past ten years, or so.
As reported by Broadcast Beat last year, NAB continues the fight to have analog FM (and AM) radio signals delivered via Smartphones, and has even created a website to voice an opinion: RadioRocksMyPhone.com; the site explains the facts about FM Radio Reception in your smartphone, as well as how to save money, stay connected and even which phones are already capable of receiving free FM radio! There is also an option to “Join the Movement” which allows you links to many cell service providers so that you can voice your opinion to have this very sensible feature added (albeit for a one-time low-cost activation fee).
The radio chip is very popular in Europe, and is activated (or allowed to be activated) in phones sold there; US cell phone manufacturers would rather have you stream content, rather than be able to obtain it for free, in order to ramp-up its data charges to the consumer.
A House bill re-introduced last week would eliminate the FM-chip requirements entirely. The bill, by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, legislates that H.R. 4588, the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act, would disallow the FCC from being able to require smartphones to have radio capabilities. “Our legislation seeks to modernize outdated law and put an end to a loophole that allows AM/FM radio to avoid paying musicians for their creative work.” Blackburn stated.
Although The National Broadcasters Association does not support federally-mandated FM chips in smartphones, it opposes the bill, asking instead that wireless carriers voluntarily allow the radio capabilities in their phones to be available. “For public safety reasons alone, FM chips already in cell phones should be turned on,” said Wharton.
So, the fight continues. As European countries lead the charge to eliminate FM radio, the US is trying to implement ways to embrace the analog FM (and AM) transmissions. Of course, Europe is way ahead of the US with his changeover to digital; and hundreds of millions of people in the US continue to listen to analog FM, even though analog television was removed in favor of digital transmissions barely 2 years ago. Will the US be successful in its move to basically futurize and outdated technology? Only time will tell… And that will definitely be in the future. Until then, we can still enjoy our outmoded AM and FM radio on our familiar analog receiver sets.