Norway’s Radio

There seems to be a bit of confusion surrounding Norway’s announcement they’ll stop broadcasting FM radio. Someone didn’t do their homework when they started writing titles for the various articles that are covering the matter, so I hope I can spend a few minutes and clarify the topic for you.

Let’s start with the original source. An article by Radio.no uses the following title in their article:

Norway to Switch Off FM in 2017

That sounds pretty ominous like there’s an end to radio broadcasting as we know it, or something. Other news outlets are twisting it into being Norway killing radio altogether.

Too bad that’s not the whole story. The article goes on to talk about how “the Ministry of Culture announced a national FM-switch off, to complete the transition to digital radio.” Wait, so we’re not killing off FM radio? They just said FM is going away.

Yes and no.

FM as we know it (the analog broadcasting medium that requires a lot of radio bandwidth and provides little result) is going away… eventually. In Norway, it’ll start on January 11th, 2017 and will start with national broadcasters like NRK, P4, and SBS. The end of this transition is slated for December 13th of the same year, almost a full 12 months. So really, analog FM radio is dead in Norway on December 13, 2017, not January 11th.

What won’t cease to exist is radio broadcasting. Norway is dropping analog FM for an open standard called DAB or Digital Audio Broadcasting. It also goes by the name Eureka-147 in the standards world because it was created as a research project in the late 90s for the European Union by Eureka, a pan-European research and development organization.
Digital Audio Broadcasting is like the United States’ HDRadio, except the US version is proprietary and owned by a corporation (not surprising, really). According to what I’ve read about DAB and the specs therein, it’s essentially over-the-air broadcasting of MP2 or AAC-encoded audio and is broadcasted as a part of a package of streams within a chunk of radio frequency. Each broadcast allows for 1000kbps of bandwidth per “channel” whereas HDRadio only allows 300kbps and is based on a main broadcast with digital simulcasts immediately above and below on the spectrum.

Digital Audio Broadcasting will never likely catch on in America since the Federal Communications Commission chose HD Radio is the go-to standard nor will analog radio broadcasts ever likely be eliminated in the states, which I’m sure broadcasters here both enjoy and hate at the same time.

Analog terrestrial radio takes an immense amount of power to do successfully and the amount of interference from neighboring towers and stations gets higher as you increase said power. Analog radio bleeds a lot into neighboring frequencies unlike digital so the amount of stations possible in the FM band is limited more so in comparison to all digital broadcasts.

Norway has the right idea. Sure they won’t be using the FM frequencies, anymore, but what does that matter? FM is too low to support any meaningful data transfer and the frequency bands for DAB (Band III in particular) are high enough to stay out of the way of FM (should it become a free zone like CB and Wifi) but low enough to avoid other arbitrary bands used for other purposes. In America, though, Band III covers half of the old analog TV spectrum (174-216mhz plus a few mobile and fixed radio uses). Combining that with the FCC going with HD Radio, DAB is dead in the American water.

I don’t forsee anything to worry about. Typically people that freak out about stuff like this don’t really realize they might already be in a digital broadcasting area and just don’t know it. Analog’s death as a broadcasting medium should have happened a decade ago. It’s expensive and power-hungry and offers very little in terms of feature.

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