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Norway is becoming the first nation to shut down FM radio

Nathan Giannini
Norwegian radio hosts Berith Olderskog and Geir Schau shut down the northern part of Norway’s FM radio network in favor of digital radio at a ceremony in Bodo, Norway January 11, 2017. NTB Scanpix

Norway became the first country in the world to phase out its analog radio signals on Wednesday. Starting at 11:11 am local time (5:11 am EST), the Nordic nation began closing down its FM (frequency modulation) signal in favor of digital audio broadcasting, or DAB.

National stations will have until the end of 2017 to phase out FM, while local stations have five years to make the move. Proponents argue DAB provides a clearer, higher quality sound and can carry more channels. Furthermore, the aging FM system often struggled to deliver a signal to sparsely populated areas surrounded by mountains and fjords.

Approximately 70 percent of Norwegian households already have a digital radio. The country has 26 DAB stations compared to just five on FM.

There are critics of the move. A poll published by daily newspaper Dagbladet last month found that 66 percent of Norwegians oppose the move, with just 17 percent in favor of switching off the FM signal.

Ib Thomsen, a member of the ruling coalition party, echoed that sentiment, telling Reuters, “We are simply not ready for this yet.”

FM radio is seen inside a car in Oslo, Norway January 10, 2017. By the end of this year the FM network will be shut down in all of Norway. NTB scanpix/ Berit Roald

“There are 2 million cars on Norwegian roads that don’t have DAB receivers and millions of radios in Norwegian homes will stop working when the FM net is switched off. So there is definitely a safety concern,” he said.

Car radios are a particular area of concern as drivers rely on them for emergency updates during the country’s inclement winters. A digital adapter costs around $170.

Despite the concerns, the government is going ahead with the plan, which officials say will save the country 200 million kroner, or just more than $23 million a year.

While Norway is the first country to make the switch, it’s by no means the only nation considering such a move. Switzerland plans to phase out FM radio by the end of 2020, while the United Kingdom plans to make the switch once 50 percent of its radio listeners are using digital.