No more FM? Norway is becoming the first country to scrap FM broadcasts and switch to all-digital broadcasts for radio. The country does not use the AM band for radio transmissions, and the new regulations–taking effect in 2017–would require listeners to obtain digital radio receivers or listen in on the Internet. An official statement by the Norwegian government frames the switchover as a tech-savvy cost-cutting move.
“Radio digitization 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. Digitization will also greatly improve the emergency preparedness system, facilitate increased competition and offer new opportunities for innovation and development,” culture minister Thorhild Widvey said in a statement.
The radio climate in Norway is different from that in the United States, with a BBC/CBC-like government-affiliated broadcaster called NRK dominating the airwaves. According to the Norwegian government, switching to digital broadcasts allows NRK and other broadcasters to add more channels, and saves the network significant costs.
But the real test of digital radio in Norway will come during emergencies. Land telephone lines, Internet access, and mobile towers frequently fail or become overloaded in disaster situations. The Norwegian government says digital radio will be better for emergencies because transmitters are less vulnerable to failure, but many Norwegians lack cheap, battery-operated digital radios to use in case of emergencies.
The technology used by the Norwegian government for broadcasts, DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), is rarely used in the United States but commonplace in western Europe, China, and Australia.