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The facts: The Norwegian FM switch-off

Local radio will still be on FM after the switch off - but even the local radio stations are going digital. This is a photo of the DAB transmitter ordered by 1 FM in Molde on the West Coast. It will be up and running no later than April when that region make the switch.

Norway: You have read about it, but all the reports seem to be saying something slightly different. What are the facts – really. We have put them together for you. You might be surprised to find out that they are not actually switching off at all. Not yet anyway.

Are they switching off FM, really?
Yes – and no. All the bigger radio stations will switch off their FM transmitters. Local radio may continue – but only outside of the four major cities – there local radio will switch off as well. This means the NRK (the public service broadcaster and all their stations), P4-gruppen (the MTG owned radio group that holds one of the national FM licenses. Their P4 station is the second largest in the market with a share around 20 per cent) and Bauer Media (who owns the second national FM licence, Radio Norge. Number three/four in the market depending on the week and how well NRK P3 is doing). Together they are roughly 95 per cent of the market between them, local radio cover the rest.

What about the listeners when the airwaves suddenly go quiet?
Well, there is no sudden silence across the land. If you switched off everything at once everywhere that would probably be different. This is a year long process. Norway is divided into regions and the switch off will happen region by region. Unlike this first region, the county of Nordland, in other regions NRK will switch off first, then a period later (about two months) the national commercial broadcaster will switch off. If the region includes one of the four metropolitan areas (Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger) local radio will switch off as well together with the national operators. This way each region will be given time to inform everyone and a support structure could be in place.

This infographic is in Norwegian: over the arrow are the name of the county/counties affected, under the arrow the dates of the switch off. “Enkelte lokalradioer” means “some local radio stations”.

Why are they switching off, are they mad?
Norway is a long country – if you put a finger on the southern most part and peel the country down from the North it would end up somewhere in Italy. Add to it mountains and fjords and that arctic region on top. Inhabited by 5,2 million Norwegians, where about half of them live within commuter distance from the capital. Imagine the FM network that has been put in place with numerous repeaters to reach valleys and remote areas, include in that the world’s longest tunnels etc. Digital signals lend themselves better to covering these places than analogue and digital will finally offer a selection of radio stations rather than just a few. Industry driven? Well, yes. But they had to hit certain mile markers before the switch could happen: a) coverage at least as good as FM, b) at least half of listening digital and c) digital needed to offer significant added value for the listeners. They hit the target and the Government gave the green light.

When two thirds of the listeners do not want to switch, how can the broadcasters possibly dare to go forward with this plan?
Two thirds? The Norwegians don’t seem to be agreeing with themselves here. Two thirds might have said no, but to what? It all depends on how you ask, as any pollsters will tell you. What is interesting are the facts: 74 per cent of Norwegian households have at least one DAB radio. Sales data tell us there are 3.9 million DAB radio’s – keep in mind the 5.2 million Norwegians still. Finally, did you see those numbers from Christmas? 300.000 Norwegians got a digital radio this year. That is impressive, to say the least. Two thirds might have said they don’t want to switch, but the very same people have voted with their feet and seem to embrace this new future.

Why would Norway be the first country to do this, surely that is taking a risk?
Why not? Norway might be the Northern outpost of Europe, but they are actually quite progressive and love to break new ground. Just look at history – we covered it the other day in the commentary piece: Why is Norway the first country in the world to switch off FM? It’s simple really. Add to this that most DAB radios have FM too – so those Norwegians will be able to listen to radio when they drive somewhere, like Sweden, and when they take their pocket sized radios to England to watch football.

As an interesting little point, anyone who would choose to follow Norway, see what they did ahead of the switch off:

– They had a team of people visit every single car dealership in the country. Information and instruction was given to educate them ahead of the switch off.

– They had seminars and courses for the retailers so they would know how to answer questions and how to best help young and old to choose the radio best suited for their needs.

*click* Let’s go digital.

1 Comment on "The facts: The Norwegian FM switch-off"

  1. Thanks for this clear and informative piece. The switchover is a bold step, but if any country can make it work, it’s Norway.

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