In 2017, news that Norway was the first country to switch off the FM band in favour of DABgrabbed headlines. The idea tickled the imagination, so few verified it. But it was a hoax: the sensationalism of the news had overshadowed the reality. What abandoned FM was public radio NRKand, above all, the commercial networks. NRK occupied two frequencies out of three of those active in the country: 2000, compared to 1000 of all other radio stations, networks included. The main beneficiary of this operation was public radio: concentrating in a single multiplex four national networks, divesting hundreds of transmission sites (they were 700) and decommissioning FM transmitters nearing the end of their life, would have realized great economies of scale.
Towards a five-year extension
Of the remaining frequencies, 40% (400) have been switched off by private networks and large commercial radio stations, especially in the capital and in large urban areas. But the others are still on the air: 552 (data from www.fmlist.org) used by 100 radio stations, many of which declare on their website that they are proud to continue in analogue. Some stations have also switched on DAB muxes (there are several used by a single station, which at most host two or three thematic channels) to keep up with the news. Broadcasting will continue until at least 2026: Mari Velsand, director of the Norwegian Media Authority recommended the government extend the FM licenses another five years, believing that media diversity would be compromised if the shutdown occurred at the end of 2021, as planned.
It is the first experiment in cross-media by a social network: TikTok has launched a radio station in Australia. It is a channel on the Australian version of the digital platform iHeartRadio. The new radio station, available online and on DAB, will let you know what music is popular on the video sharing app at the moment and listen to it in full. The presenters will be famous artists and influencers on TikTok. The project will run for three months: it has not yet been decided whether it will continue after that and be exported to other countries.
As we anticipated in 2019 (news here), Ireland’s public broadcaster (Raidió Teilifís Éireann or RTÉ) will switch off the DAB channels on 31 March 2021, but will not close the RTÉ Gold, RTÉ 2XM, RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, RTÉ Pulse and RTÉjr Radio channels, which it will make available on other digital platforms. The decision was taken for three reasons: to reduce costs, the small number of listenersin the DAB band and the fact that RTÉ is the only Irish broadcaster in the digital band. The majority of Irish people (77%) listen to FM radio, compared to 0.5% for DAB. This is according to the latest radio listening survey (JNLR, Radio in a Digital World), conducted by market research institute Ipsos MRBI.
The PBC (Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation) has asked the government to make it compulsory for cars to be equipped with digital receivers in the next five-year plan for the automobile industry. For some time now, public radio and television have been broadcasting using the DRM digital standard in the AM and FM bands. DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), unlike DAB (which uses VHF channels in band III), is a digital broadcasting system applicable to all frequencies, from the HF bands (LW, MW, SW) to VHF (bands I, II, the FM band, and band III). And it foresees investments to complete the digital migration in the next five to seven years, to improve audio quality (claimed to be equal to that of a CD) and energy efficiency.
If in 2018 it was the PP (Partido Popular) that sank DAB, it now was the Socialists of the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) who rejected the bill presented by Compromís, a political coalition from Valencia, to the Senate. The spokesman in the Senate of the Valencian political coalition, Carles Mulet Garcia, points out that from next December in Spain all cars will have digital radio (as required by European regulations) but that owners will not be able to receive programs, turning the nation into “a technological island of Europe”. In Spain the technical plan for the development of digital radio was launched in 1999. It foresaw the coverage of 80% of the population in 2005, then reduced to 20% in 2011. Today listening is limited to Madrid and Barcelona, although there are unauthorized transmissions on the Costa del Sol and the Canary Islands.