OSLO • Norway will today become the first country in the world to start shutting down its FM radio network in favour of digital radio, a bold move watched closely by other countries around Europe.
Supporters of digital audio broadcasting (DAB) say it offers better sound quality and more channels at one-eighth of the cost of FM transmission, launched in the US in 1945.
The authorities say it also offers better coverage, allows listeners to catch up on programmes they have missed and makes it easier to broadcast emergency messages.
Norway has been preparing for the switch-over for years. DAB and FM have existed side by side since 1995. There are 22 national digital stations and 20 smaller ones. The FM spectrum has room for only a maximum of five national stations.
The big switch-off begins in Nordland at 11.11am before expanding to the rest of the country by year end, making millions of old radios obsolete. But many think the shift is premature.
A poll in Dagbladet newspaper last month found 66 per cent of Norwegians are against shutting down FM, with only 17 per cent in favour.
While around three-quarters of the population have at least one DAB radio set, many motorists are unhappy because only about a third of cars on the road are equipped. Converting a car radio involves buying an adaptor for between 1,000 (S$167) and 2,000 kroner. The alternative is to get a new radio.
Part of the reason Norway is the first country to switch away from FM transmission has to do with topography. It is expensive to get signals to a small population scattered around a landscape riven with fjords and high mountains.
The process will be watched closely by Switzerland, Denmark and Britain, where listeners have taken to digital radio and which plan to shut down FM radio broadcasts.
The UK has not set a date but said it will switch off FM signals when half of radio listening is digital - the figure is currently more than 35 per cent - and when DAB signals reach 90 per cent of the population.
But other countries, including France, where broadcasters remain unconvinced by the new technology, are lagging behind.