Radio digitisation in 2017

The Government has set a date for the switch-off of Norway’s FM radio stations, having concluded that the criteria for the technology shift are now met. The decision to switch off all FM radio stations in 2017 follows up the radio digitisation mandate issued by the Storting (the Norwegian parliament) in 2011.

“Radio digitisation will open the door to a far greater range of radio channels, benefiting listeners across the country. Listeners will have access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content, and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality. Digitisation will also greatly improve the emergency preparedness system, facilitate increased competition and offer new opportunities for innovation and development,” says Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey.

“Whereas the FM system only had space for five national channels, DAB already offers 22, and there is capacity for almost 20 more. In addition, more than half the population already has access to local radio on DAB, and there is considerable potential for further local channels,” she continues.

The authorities have facilitated an industry-driven process, primarily in the form of a collaboration project between P4, Radio Norge and NRK. The 2011 parliamentary white paper on digital radio – which enjoyed  broad cross-party support – laid down a set of criteria to be met by 1 January 2015 in order for a 2017 digitisation date to be viable.

The cost of transmitting national radio channels through the FM- network is eight times higher than with the DAB-network, and P4, Radio Norge and NRK are currently spending large sums on parallel distribution. With the termination of the analogue services, the Norway’s national radio channels will realise savings of more than NOK 200 million a year, releasing funds for investment in radio content.

The DAB-network also offers clear advantages over the FM system from an emergency preparedness perspective. For one thing, DAB is far less vulnerable to transmitter failure in extreme conditions. Second, DAB permits tunnel reception of all channels. Finally, DAB technology allows simultaneous transmission of emergency messages on all channels.

Criteria for the FM switch-off  

These were the absolute criteria to be met before any switch-off could be implemented, irrespective of its timing:

  • The coverage of NRK’s digital radio services must correspond to that of the channel NRK P1 on FM. The multiplex that carries commercial national services (Riksblokka) must cover at least 90 per cent of the population.
  • Digital radio must represent added value for listeners.

In addition, the following two criteria had to be met by 1 January 2015 in order for an FM switch-off in January 2017 to be viable:

  • Affordable and technically satisfactory solutions must be available for radio reception in cars.
  • At least half of all listeners must listen to a digital radio station daily.

If only the two absolute criteria, but not the two additional criteria, had been met by 2015, the FM switch-off would have been scheduled for 2019.