Norway becomes the first country in the world to adopt digital-only radio.

From the 10 January, Norway began to switch-off its FM radio transmissions across the country, with listeners only able to listen to digital audio broadcasting (DAB) programmes from the end of 2017.

The switch-off will occur regionally with the northern city of Bodø, in Nordland, being the first to have its FM signal cut. By the end of the year national networks will only be available via DAB radio, while local stations will have five years to fully transition according to BBC News.

The move comes as the Norwegian government looks to make savings and allow broadcasters to invest more in programming. With an ageing infrastructure, FM transmissions have long been seen as expensive in the sparsely populated country. This is partly due to its disruptive fjord laden landscape and mountainous landscape, making it difficult to maintain full and reliable FM coverage.

Now, with 70% of households tuning in digitally and the robust nature of DAB, the government sees this as the right time to make the transition. DAB already has a far greater capacity and breadth of choice than FM, with 26 live stations out of a potential 40.


Yet despite the ease of DAB transmission and its low long-term running costs compared with FM – especially in Norway’s challenging terrain – the start-up costs are expensive, particularly at the household level.

According to New Scientist, the government believes it can save up to 200 million Norwegian krone (£19 million) per year by stopping the FM system. However, it is likely to cost individuals without a household DAB receiver up to 1000 (£96) krone to buy a new set, while DAB adapters for cars can cost up 1,500 krone (£143) or 4000 krone (£382) for a new radio.

These costs raise particular concerns for the elderly, whom may be left isolated due to the cost of the upgrade and for the 2million cars left without a functioning radio. Many have therefore called the switch-off premature with 66% of Norwegians opposing the move, according to Reuters.

Svein Larsen, of the Norwegian Local Radio Association agreed with the criticism: “Norway is not prepared for this” he told BBC News, “There are millions of radios in homes, cottages and boats that won’t work anymore and only around 25% of cars in Norway have digital radios or adapters.”

Nonetheless, government ministers and digital advocates remain optimistic about the transition which was first floated in 2011.

Ole Jørgen Torvmark, CEO of Digitalradio Norway, said in a press release: “A lot of work has been done during the preparations to ensure a good replacement is in place. The DAB network has been thoroughly measured and adjusted, and a great deal of information has been made available to listeners,”.

He continued: “Support for radio is strong. Many people are listening to digital radio because there are more channels available. Those who are not digital must be given enough time to make the change. This is why we are taking a year to complete the switch off,”

International interest

Other countries will be watching Norway’s transition very closely. Switzerland and Denmark have been discussing the move for years whereas the UK, with 35% DAB penetration, is said to make the move when figures reach 50%, with 90% coverage.

According to CBC News, Canada experimented with DAB in the late ‘90s and 2000s but it failed to catch on with strong competition from an alternative HD model being used in the USA and Mexico. No DAB licenses have been renewed since 2012.

By Kristian Porter

Header Image: Alan Levine/Creative Commons