Will Norway pave the path for the fall of analog radio?

Norway announced yesterday that it plans to eliminate all FM radio station in the country by January 2017. This news comes at a time when US radio station audiences dropped over 13% from 2010 to 2013. Europe has seen similar trends in the last few years. Norway’s Radio.no released Sunday that the Ministry of Culture has decided to phase out FM radio to foster a national transition to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), DAB radio is transmitted through digital technology that creates better sound quality and reception. They claim that the sound quality is close to that of a CD, and static and pops from going out of range, like in analog radio transmission, is eliminated. Current analog receivers will have to be replaced for digital ones that can pick up the digital signal.

According to Engadget, DAB radio is more reliable and also eight times less expensive to maintain than analog. Some Norwegians have already opted into digital radio, which has been available in the country since 1997, in addition to analog, so the transition will be easier for some over others. Although 55% of households use DAB radio, only 20% of cars have it to date.

Why this is a good step for Norway:

Any staunch traditionalists will just have to accept the change — a change that will not change the content of radio whatsoever. Economically, it makes sense for the government to save large sums of money while actually improving quality and reception for radio listeners. There’s no doubt that Norway is one of the first countries to be able to announce such a transition because of its status as one of the strongest democracies in the world. Since 2005, the Labour Party has been in power in a coalition with the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party. Socialist tendencies of the government have led to a society close to economic and social homogenization — the GDP per capita and unemployment rate of Norway were about twice as good as those of the United States, which indicates a much more equitable socio-economic composition of society.

Radio is declining in popularity, but is still quite a major, form of mass communication, after television and before the Internet. It will be interesting to follow the future of radio in Norway over the next 5-10 years as it serves as the world’s guinea pig for a solely DAB country. According to News Generation, radio listeners most often want to listen to the radio in their cars because of the ease and convenience of in-car radio transmission, so if DAB radio delivers a better quality, it could also potentially attract more listeners and revitalize radio consumption.

It is my belief that all countries will eventually follow Norway’s lead, but it may take decades for other countries to jump on the DAB bandwagon. Currently, Norway, and possibly a few other Scandinavian countries in Europe with similar socio-economics and politics, has the momentum and support to facilitate the transition to digital radio to accompany so many other transitions to digital communications media. It may be a while before we see these changes in countries that have more pressing issues to handle, like wars, poverty or healthcare. While most who listen to radio are satisfied, the transition to DAB radio could eventually be necessary to slow the decline in radio consumption that so much of the world is experiencing. This said, don’t expect DAB to be the national standard in the US any time soon.

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