Last week, Norway became the first country in the world to start switching off FM radio signal, going digital only. Is the UK ready to follow suit?
On Wednesday 11 January, Norway began the process of switching off its FM radio signal for good to go digital only.
Proceedings started in Nordland (one of the least populated areas of Europe) and will expand to the rest of the country by the end of the year.
The decision for the switch-off appears to be largely economic.
It’s expensive to get FM signals to a population scattered all over a country riven with fjords and high mountains. It’s also cheaper for radio stations to transmit broadcasts in DAB, rather than FM and DAB.
However, the general population won’t see any of these savings and many will have to shell out to update their radios, as millions of models will soon be rendered obsolete.
Those against it (two-thirds of the population, according to the country’s Dagbladet newspaper) said the move was premature and being forced upon them.
Is the UK next?
Understandably, many in the UK are now concerned about a move to digital-only radio.
And the fact that a week after turning FM off in Nordland, Norway’s DAB system temporarily went down will do nothing to allay any fears.
The UK government has said it won’t start a wholesale radio switchover until 50% of us are listening digitally and DAB signal coverage is comparable to FM.
But with that number now at 45.5% and new cars with digital radio as standard at 86%, we’re not far away from meeting the first target, which means the switch could start as soon as the end of the year.
Are we ready?
But rather than rushing in, as appears to be the case in Norway, I think it’s important we’re given adequate time to prepare.
For starters, the government needs to continue its work to strengthen the DAB signal, especially in rural areas where it can be patchy.
You’ll also need to update your old FM radios.
For your home, a decent quality DAB radio will set you back at least £40. In your car, you’ll either have to buy an adaptor, which cost between £50 and £200, or pay at least £40 for a whole new model, costing from between £90 and £400, to be fitted.
It isn’t all bad news though, as digital transmitters need less energy than analogue transmitters so are cheaper to run than FM radios.
There are also many more stations available on the digital spectrum – almost double in some areas. Plus, if your reception is good, the sound quality on DAB radios is far superior to FM.
Do you prefer to listen to FM, DAB or internet radio? Are you worried that, like Norway, the UK will switch off FM before everyone’s ready?