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Norway Leads Digital Radio Wave

The country’s year-long FM phase out begins, parts of Italy and Switzerland to follow

OSLO — “A digital radio wave moving across Europe, with Norway leading the way,” is how Patrick Hannon, WorldDAB president, described Wednesday’s switch-off of FM broadcasts in Nordland county.

Norway’s move to DAB-only transmission for national and urban local stations is happening in six regional stages, with the capital Oslo losing national FM services in September, and ending in the northern-most counties of Troms and Finnmark in December.

Hannon pointed out that Norway was not alone in switch-off, highlighting Italy, where some FM transmitters in South Tyrol will be switched off later this year, and Switzerland starting in 2020. While the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden are leading the way in DAB, Hannon said he was also pleased to see many central and eastern European countries, such as Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic now running DAB trials.

“Today’s digital switchover is a hugely important milestone for the radio industry,” said Hannon. “The DAB platform is far more efficient than FM — offering both greater choice and clearer sound. With the start of the switchover process, Norway is sending a clear signal across the world that the future of radio is digital.”

Graham Dixon, head of Radio for the European Broadcasting Union, said he “admired the Norwegian energy” driving its DAB switchover and pointed out that EBU members were already running around 80 DAB-only stations across Europe.

Dixon described FM as “an old friend,” but claimed it was now inhibiting innovation. He said “there’s no space for new services and no-one — either listeners or the media industry — wants to inhabit a limited world, one which denies choice for listeners.”

Meanwhile, in Norway 74 percent of households now have one or more DAB radios. Ole Jørgen Torvmark, Digital Radio Norway CEO, stated that despite more than 100,000 cars having upgrades in the past month alone, still only 32 percent of cars have DAB. However, Torvmark said he was “cautiously excited about the shut-off,” and added “we will look back at this technology shift as we have done with others before — it would be unthinkable to go back,” he said.

“This is a historical day for radio. We want to see radio continue its development on digital platforms, following the FM-technology that lifted radio from its beginning on AM. The Norwegian broadcasters show the digital possibilities today by launching five new radio stations, giving the listeners 30 national channels in total. The world’s first digital switchover is made possible through collaboration across government, broadcasters and the supply chain. Throughout 2017, the focus will be to help all listeners with the transition,” he concluded.