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Is the UK ready to switch off FM radio for good?

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?

Comments
Member

The BBC wants to keep FM radio for longer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43458695

Perhaps we need a consultation to see if citizens of the UK are happy for FM radio to be switched off.

Member
grumbler says:
19 March 2018

I live in a rural area and DAB is useless. The only stations I can get consistenly on DAB are Radio 1,2,3,& 4 all others disappear despite retuning. At least with FM I can get good regular reception for BBC and local stations. If no FM relying on DAB would be a great loss and further isolate rural communities

Member
dai bando says:
27 April 2018

It’s clear that we aren’t anywhere near ready for a full switchover yet. Reception is still difficult in many partys of the UK and quality radios are still expensive and beyond the reach of many on a fixed income, especially pensioners. The reviews of DAB sets on here tell us all we need to know. Much work still needs to be done.

Member

One aspect which seems to have been overlooked is the processing delay between transmitted signal and output to the speaker. On analogue receivers (be they FM, SW, MW, LW or any other band for that matter), delay from transmitter to receiver is the distance divided by the speed of light, and delay in processing the signal from detector stage to speaker not a lot more. With digital, it is much, much greater.

Does it matter? Probably not a lot to most – but for the OCD folk who delight in checking the accuracy of the second hand of their wall clocks to the start of the sixth B flat pip….

Member

Any reason for retaining analogue radio will do. 🙂

It’s not the inaccurate time that troubles me but the difference in delay between radios. I’m a keen Radio 4 listener and often have two radios on in different rooms. The echo effect soon becomes wearing.

Member

I still do not own a single DAB radio.

I can get enough stations via analogue FM.

I can also stream audio and video via my broadband internet.

So, currently, I have no need for DAB at all.

Member

Unfortunately, those who listen to radio via the internet or on digital TVs count towards the listeners to digital radio, bringing the planned switch-off of analogue radio closer. 🙁 Unless consumers object to the plans of government in collaboration with business, you might need to replace your radios, Derek.

We need a proper consultation to find out if the public is happy for FM radio to be switched off.

Member

It’s just as well then that I don’t stream “radio” channels.

To be honest, I mostly listen to radio at breakfast time or in the bath.

For the latter, I could always take up singing and, for the former, I could always get some laptop decent speakers, always assuming the laptop would multitask streaming R4 whilst browsing W?C.

I also wake every day to R4 via a clock radio alarm, but, I hope to retire soon, and then I won’t need that anymore.

Member

DerekP, I also am alarmed by Radio 4 and frequently doze a little longer before arising. I sometimes find that I am joining in the discussion, arguing with some stupid politician or asking a question and being extremely frustrated when no one seems to pay any attention to me and my question remains rudely ignored.