FM Radio in Norway Moving to Digital in 2017: Could It Happen in U.S.?

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2015-04-20 Print this article Print
FCC, analog radio, digital radio, Norway, FM radio

Norway has announced that by the end of 2017, its FM radio stations will no longer broadcast over analog networks but will instead move to all-digital systems that will improve sound quality and give radio stations more capabilities for additional and better content.

As soon as I read this, I immediately thought about the brand-new Alpine FM/AM/CD analog receiver that I just installed in my 1999 Subaru Forester a week ago, with the sad realization that I'd better drive the Forester to Norway before 2017 for a vacation while I can still get my now suddenly outmoded radio to work there. That's a lot of pressure.

Then I began wondering, could such a radio transition happen here in the United States? Could we ever face a time when analog radio will disappear in favor of digital-only broadcasts across the nation? Did I make a huge mistake by buying my new Alpine analog receiver when I did?

Alas, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio and television broadcasting in the U.S., it's something that we don't have to worry about anytime soon. It would literally take congressional action to mandate such a major change, and Congress can't seem to agree on much anymore.

In Norway, the move to digital FM radio is seen as progress, Ole Jørgen Torvmark, the CEO of Digital Radio Norway, told eWEEK. "The main reason for the move to digital is that we want to offer Norwegians more radio and better radio," said Torvmark. "And we want to ensure that radio as a medium can compete with all other digital media that people can consume."

For two decades, Norway had been trying to find ways to gently transition from analog to digital radio, but in the end, a shutdown of the analog system was found to be needed, he said. The Norwegian government has just signed off on this plan. Norway claims to be the first nation to make this move to all-digital FM.

In the U.S., things in the world of radio are far different. There is no impending move to all-digital FM radio. In fact, there are some 1,800 radio stations operating as hybrids, broadcasting in both analog and digital for their listeners who have different types of receivers.

If ever a move would be made by Congress to go all digital, it would essentially make more than half a billion FM radio receivers being used in the U.S. inoperable and obsolete overnight.

That's not likely to happen, Joseph D'Angelo, a spokesman for iBiquity Digital Corp., which runs and manages the HD radio system here in the U.S., told eWEEK. "For Congress to take that kind of position it seems like there would need to be a very different scenario, given the number of radios already in use and the fact that radio is a lifeline for people. A wholesale shutdown, I don't see that in the near- or medium-term future."

My Subaru and I just let out sighs of relief. |

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