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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
Guest
James says:
26 February 2017

When I moved into my south coast flat 11 years ago I was less than impressed to find that I couldn’t pick up a decent FM signal. Tried a few other radios as well just to make sure it wasn’t my device (probably more to do with the building materials in my flat I suspect). Anyway I went out and bought a DAB radio (retailer was concerned that I might have trouble with reception ) and have never looked back. Pretty well always had a good reliable signal and the DAB sound quality on my Pure Evoke still sounds good after all these years. I would be disappointed if I had to go back to FM.

Guest
Jan Cowling says:
26 February 2017

I drive every day in a new van equipped with FM and DAB radio , the areas I cover are some what remote in N/Cornwall . The DAB is absolutely useless so I have to rely on FM, if the country changes to digital in the next year they will have to improve coverage immensely or we will be deaf to all the news etc.

Guest
S Rennison says:
27 February 2017

DAB was obsolete before it was even launched yet they still want ahead with it! Yes there may be lots more stations but the sound quality is poor with some stations now broadcasting in mono on the platform.

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Guest

Well my DAB radio works in South Wales, Kent, Cornwall & London ok.

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Guest

I have a Pure One DAB radio & a Pure mi. Whilst the DAB radio’s seem to have good sound quality & more stations, the only time I can see any difference in sound quality is when I have road works. It has a effect on the FM signals.Maybe MW or SW should be broadcast in remote areas by local radio stations there?

Guest
George Chapman says:
28 February 2017

What about car radios? I was told inaccurately that my new Skoda (March 2011) had a DAB radio but will anything new fit?

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Guest

A conversion kit for a Skoda costs – £150 George- dynamic sounds sell one , otherwise a full replacement costs nearly £300 .

Guest
Keith M says:
28 February 2017

I have embraced DAB with radios at home and in the car, but am less than impressed in two major areas. Firstly, the delay time for coding and decoding of the signal is random from radio set to radio set. This then results in audio from several radios being ‘out of sync’; as I walk around the house my three radios give an unlistenable output with each set interfering with the next. Whilst the same is true for TV, there is less tendency to listen on-the-go. When the specification standard was written for DAB, a fixed coding time should have been included so that output would be synchronised. FM doesn’t have this handicap.
Secondly, for the car radio, the U.K. coverage just isn’t good enough. Not just the remote rural areas. As I drive east along the M27/A27 from Southampton to Chichester, I lose the DAB signal several times – one would think that one of the most densely populated areas of the country would have adequate coverage.

Guest
SF says:
1 March 2017

We have no desire to switch from a system that works perfectly well. My husband listens to Radio 4 on long wave (cricket), so we opt for LW/MW/FM gadgets and would hate to have to get rid of them.

Guest
Richard says:
4 March 2017

DAB coverage and quality too poor for switchover. DAB also need to sync with FM for serveral radios playing in a house plus accurate sync of time signal (still useful in 2017)

Guest
G Evans says:
4 March 2017

I have great difficulty getting a radio signal because I live near a hill in the Dales. A store selling techie stuff said there was no way of getting round the problem. There are a lot of ‘dead’ spots for reception. I’d get a DAB radio if it was guaranteed to work well, but not willing to risk it.

Guest
Ian says:
4 March 2017

We have just installed a lot of LED lights in our refurbished house. Switch the lights on and any nearby radio on a digital programme, immediately stops broadcasting. We have to re-tune to FM to carry on listening. The light manufacturer says this is because we have a weak DAB signal. Checking on the internet confirms this for our area although, without the lights on the digital signal is loud and clear. This issue needs to be resolved before FM is switched off.

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Guest

Lighting and other household products have to comply with standards that are intended to protect us from interference problems. It’s not a good idea to put a lamp alongside a radio – for example on a bedside table. If you are having a problem with lamps at a distance from the radio I suggest you ask for a refund. The manufacturer might do this as goodwill but it is the retailer that has an obligation under the Consumer Rights Act to provide goods of satisfactory quality.

I put off buying LEDs because I was concerned about interference but now having a house filled with them the only interference problem was with the first lamp I bought.

There are a couple of Conversations where the problem of radio interference by LED lamps is discussed at length. Rather than risk the same problem again, it is worth buying one lamp and making sure that you still have radio reception.

Guest
Geoff.M.48 says:
4 March 2017

I have a decent Audio which includes a Linn Amplifier with included FM tuner. The sound on Radio 3 beats any digital tuner I have heard ensuring that evening concerts are a pleasure to enjoy And yet this tuner is going to be rendered obsolete in the interests of progress and providing quantity over quality.
Incidentally I guess Classic F.M will be pleased as a decent F.M. with external aerial shows how poor its sound quality is.

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Guest

There are two factors here. The shoehorning stations into the banks available has resulted in lower bitrates than needed for good quality DAB broadcasts. High dynamic range compression – as used on Classic FM and popular stations – is used to help listeners who may have poor reception or listening in noisy conditions.

Classic FM is a commercial station and wants to maximise the number of listeners rather than appeal to those who are more concerned with quality. The latter would probably prefer to listen to and entire piece of music than one movement. 🙁