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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?


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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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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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.

Does anyone know if DAB car radios have the same RDS function as FM car radios? RDS allows the FM receiver to switch automatically from transmitter to transmitter as you move around the country, always staying with the same programme. I believe DAB receivers have no such capability. I suspect you have to stop in a lay-by and re-tune. Even if it is automatic, the channel demultiplexing process is unacceptably long if you are listening to a sports commentary.

I’ve been using a DAB car radio for over five years and cannot remember having to retune. When there is no DAB signal it will switch to the same programme on FM if that is available.

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.

I totally agree! I listen to Gold on MW. I am the same, especially as I collect and use vintage equipment! could they supply me with an adapter for my 1940s wireless! I guess not!

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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)

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.

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.

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.

Annette says:
5 May 2017

“It’s not a good idea to put a lamp alongside a radio – for example on a bedside table.”

But that’s exactly what I expect to be able to put on a bedside table – a lamp and a clock-radio!

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Hi Annette – Duncan is right and I was referring to LED bulbs.

Many electronic products, including microwave ovens, computer routers, lamp dimmers and TVs can create radio interference. Unfortunately some LED and CFL lamps can do the same. It’s worse if the radio signal is weak and in this case it can help to move the radio away from the source of interference. The first (and most expensive) LED bulb I bought interfered with FM radio but others have been OK. I have just put my radio beside my LED bedside light and there is no obvious FM or DAB interference.

If you do have problems just take the lamp back and ask for a different brand.

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.

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. 🙁

David Cooper says:
7 October 2017

May I second your well stated comments Geoff,the impending loss of the wonderful sound that comes from my Audiolab tuner fills me with sadness,not to mention the large financial loss after FM is switched off.

St John says:
13 February 2018

Geoff & Wavechange,
If the classical music with its wide dynamic range is fed into a DAB+ encoder the signal is heavily compressed, however a metadata signal which indicates the amount of compression used is also sent to the receiver. This gives a signal to noise ratio of 90 dB regardless of the signal strength at the antenna. This is much better than FM.

So if you are listening to classical music in the car with noisy surroundings just listen to the compressed version so you don’t miss anything. When you get into quiet surroundings at home with a powerful hifi system you can get the receiver to expand the dynamic range of the original. You cannot do this with FM.

One day I might be able to compare classical music on FM with DAB+ but that’s not an option in the UK at the moment.

Dave Mastin says:
13 April 2017

I have about 15 FM radios that get used frequently, one for each area of my home and an iPod (which is brilliant). I have no intention of replacing any of these if the BBC cease transmission of Radio 4 which is the only channel I use. For the most part, this is my main contact with the outside world and for various reasons I object to DAB. I suggest that if FM disappears then we should cart our redundant receivers down to Ofcom in Southwark and pile them up outside their entrance. Dave M.

If FM is switched off no-one on Orkney, Shetland, the Western Islands or in the West Central or North-west Highlands will be able to listen to Radio Scotland or Radio nan Gaidheal on a radio.
Moreover there will be no radio reception in cars at all north of the Central Belt on major routes such as the A82, A84 and A85 until Oban or Fort William is reached – currently there is patchy (and scratchy) FM coverage. And many villages in this area will be left completely without any radio coverage such as Killin, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Taynuilt, Onich, Ballachulish and Kinlochleven to name a few.
DAB coverage needs to be significantly improved in Scotland before FM can be switched off.

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St John says:
13 February 2018

Jim, All transmissions above 87.5 MHz are being blocked by the terrain. The only solution for these areas is Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) which can operate in the Low Frequency (Long Wave) and Medium Frequency band. These signals are much less affected by the terrain as they follow the ground.

Why don’t they whoever they are leave the form of transmission as it is, there is nothing wrong with what we’ve got. Why always change , particularly with the new technology which is out dating or upgrading itself every 6 months or so depending on how you perceive the changes. What will happen-We’ll all get going with the digibuzz then someone will flick a switch in Calafornia and there will be no sound or it will need upgrading to blue ray red ray or purple ray, or there will be a disaster that needs to be broadcasted and the Internet is down! Also the service when I have tuned in isn’t very good its always in and out and you can never get some displayed stations to even “play”. They seem to be in a mad rush to change over probably because there’s a greater commercial angle in their interests not the listeners . Are we all to get free converters for our old and trusted am and for radio sets or will they become completely unusable. Steve S.

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That is interesting, isn’t it? Whenever we choose to flip randomly through the Sat channel line-up we can all but guarantee we’ll land on a channel showing adverts. Now, I know they only show 20 minutes every hour (only?) as ads, but it seems a lot more.

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St John says:
13 February 2018

The big advantage of Digital Radio Mondiale is that it will operate on all bands from 230 MHz used by DAB/DAB+ down to low frequencies around 200 kHz. This includes the High Frequency (Short Wave) bands which can travel around the world without repeaters or wires/fibre optics. No external government can switch them off.

The internet is easily switched off where the signals enter the country on fibre optics, wire or microwave.

Radio is also better than the mobile phone/broadband system which can easily be switched off by removing the power to the towers and the internet system which feeds them.

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DAB gives more choice. True but poll after poll reveals that 80% of listeners are perfectly happy with the choice that they have on FM.

DAB is interference free. Wrong. The artefacts that garble up DAB are worse than a noisy FM signal. When it gets too bad, DAB just switches off. Try listening to DAB in a kitchen with LED lights. Yup…doesn’t work very well does it.

And lastly the disingenuous of recent Governments is appalling. The original proposal for one of the criteria for switching over was that 50% of listening should be on DAB. The pro-DAB lobby realising that this figure would probably never be met persuaded the inadequate chairman of the committee to alter the criteria to ‘Digital listening’ and he acquiesced. Shame on him.

Why the push for DAB? Not choice…not many people want it. Not the alleged ‘better sound ‘…it isn’t. No…follow the money. It is the commercial broadcasters and the BBC who simply want to save money by turning off the FM transmitters. That is the honest truth.

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Roger – I am very much in favour of retaining FM radio but it’s hardly the fault of a DAB radio if it picks up interference from LED lights. Almost all the lamps in my house have been replaced by LED and I don’t have any problem with DAB radio. I know that some lamps do cause interference but we just rely on manufacturers to comply with standards and some don’t do it. The solution is to return the lamps to the retailer and ask for a refund or replacement with a different type. We need customers to complain or the there is no incentive for the manufacturers to design better products.

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I hope that Roger does not feel that I have criticised him, Duncan. I simply pointed out that not all LED lamps cause DAB radio interference, though some certainly do.

In my view, compliance with standards should be assessed independently rather than leaving it up to businesses to do this themselves. I don’t have a lot of faith in business practices either.

Not enough room on Rockall, Duncan. Think Antarctica…

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I do like the humour. Antartica it is, then.

Having been there and enjoyed its tranquility and purity I would hate to see Antarctica contaminated by lots of commercial rogues and advertisers being deposited there and left to their own devices. They would soon pollute the place and destroy its unique environment. If the Scottish island of Gruinard is available, and is big enough to contain such a volume of miscreants, that might be a better place; there should no longer be any traces of Anthrax left behind after decontamination following the biological warfare experiments in WW2, but what better way to find out? It would keep the transportation costs down too.

Tim Nelson says:
13 May 2017

The BBC is continuing to promote digital radio.

The government is still committed to have digital radio switchover, ignoring how poor people will be affected.

For the changeover to digital TV there was a help scheme for elderly and disabled people. No similar scheme has been promised for digital radio.

In January 2014 the BBC rejected calls to introduce a voluntary subscription fee for its services because “The evidence suggests a subscription model would be likely to reduce the payment base, increasing costs for consumers who remain and excluding many in society who could not afford to pay.”

Somewhat two faced, considering their policy concerning digital radio.

Promoting digital radios will mean that when the richer half of the population have bought them, the government is likely to stop the BBC broadcasting on FM.

This will leave the poorer half with FM radios that have no access to the BBC. It is costly to buy a decent digital radio.

We all need access to local radio for traffic news, when problems are caused by severe weather and much more besides.

Digital radio is available on Freeview televisions, but this uses more energy than a radio.

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R G Hill says:
14 May 2017

Long live LW !!! No reception problems, plus an accurate time signal

Never mind FM, here at my home in Mid Wales we can’t get any terrestrial television or radio apart from Radio 4 on long wave, and that only upstairs in our bedroom.

Jeff says:
1 July 2017

New2017 car, big traffic jams yesterday , NO local radio traffic news on DAB, as on FM RDS. Change over without these bulletins, no, no