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The world watches as Norway is first to start digital radio switchover

End of analogue radio

On Wednesday, Norway becomes the first country in the world to begin the process of switching off national FM transmissions to complete the transition to digital radio.

The first FM switch-off takes will be marked by an international ceremony attended by senior radio and media policy figures including the Norwegian Secretary of State, Bård Folke Fredriksen; Paul Keenan, CEO Bauer Media UK and the Nordics; and Graham Dixon, Head of Radio, European Broadcasting Union. 

During the ceremony at precisely 11.11am local time, a giant dial will be moved from FM to DAB to signify the moment of the transition. Radio.no will have a live stream of the event.

Similar to how digital TV switchovers took place in different countries, the Norwegian digital radio switchover is being implemented region by region across six regions, starting in the arctic city of Bodø in Nordland and ending in the northern regions of Troms and Finnmark on 13th December 2017. Norway’s radio industry, including public broadcaster NRK and commercial broadcasters P4 Group and Bauer Media’s SBS Radio, have collaborated on a plan to ensure a smooth transition for listeners, with all three turning off FM broadcasts simultaneously in two regions and NRK Radio leading the way in four.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said: 
“Norway and the UK both have a common vision of a digital future for radio to allow it to compete effectively in a multiplatform and connected world. Norway has opted to accelerate the transition to digital radio through a coordinated digital radio switchover. We wish our Norwegian colleagues a successful and smooth transition and will be watching their progress with great interest as we move towards the threshold of 50% digital listening.”

DAB digital radio launched in Norway in 1995, just ahead of its UK launch, and FM switch off was announced in April 2015. Since then digital radio progress in Norway has accelerated and DAB coverage is now at 99.7% and 74% of the population have access to DAB digital radio. 78% of new cars in Norway now come with DAB as standard. Including five new stations launching on the day of the switch, there are 30 national services broadcasting on DAB in Norway compared to just five national FM stations.

Ole Jørgen Torvmark, CEO of Digital Radio Norway, said: 
“This is a historical event for the medium of radio. FM-technology lifted radio listening; now radio can continue its development on digital platforms. Norway launches five new channels on the day of the shift to digital, giving listeners 30 national channels. We are proud to be making the world’s first digital radio switchover a reality in Norway, a landmark made possible through collaboration across Government, broadcasters and supply chain. The digital area allows Norway’s broadcasters to bring their listeners more content and diverse radio services for the future.”

Paul Keenan, CEO Bauer Media UK and the Nordics, said: 
“Bauer Media is seeing strong growth in all of its European radio businesses in the UK, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Slovakia. The digital transition in Norway is a global first and creates an opportunity for us to further extend choice for listeners and grow both reach and revenues. As in the UK, digital has unleashed exciting new innovation and creativity into the Norwegian market.”

The Norwegian switchover will affect all national radio stations and commercial local radio stations
broadcasting in larger cities. Community radio stations and smaller local stations will continue to
broadcast on FM for five more years after national switch off.

But there is some controversy: As of the beginning of 2017, 70% of cars on the road in Norway don't have access to digital radio, and a recent poll found that two thirds of the Norwegian population are against the switch.

Whilst Norway is the first country in the world to switch off FM, digital radio is making strong
progress across Europe beyond the UK. Switzerland has confirmed a switch over between 2020-
2024 whilst Governments in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have all also confirmed
support for a transition to digital radio. South Tyrol in Italy plans to turn off FM by the end of this year. They are all looking at what happens in Norway to see how any possible digital radio switchover might work in their countries.

The UK Government will consider a possible switchover to digital radio once more than 50% of listening is done via digital platforms, a target likely to be reached during the course of 2017. During the past year additional transmitters have gone live to increase coverage, but an announcement supporting digital radio switchover would facilitate further coverage boosts, notably for local DAB multiplexes.