By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
NEW YORK — Imagine one afternoon you’re watching the daily press briefing from the White House and Press Secretary Sean Spicer responds to a question from a reporter by saying, “Our government has now mandated that all radio broadcasts will only be in digital, so all Americans who own cars will have to bring their car into the shop and get a new digital radio installed at their own expense if they still want to listen to radio.”
Before you panic, this didn’t happen here. However, Norwegian radio listeners are living through this scenario this year.
In 2015, the government of Norway announced they would be the first nation to switch off its FM radio network and Norwegians and the nation’s 2.6 million cars must now change over from traditional AM/FM radios to DAB receivers – at their own expense. A large majority have yet to switch.
During an April trip to Oslo, I found the decision to make the switch to DAB is not a popular one. In a nation where an 11-ounce bottle of soda costs about $3.30 and a combo meal at McDonalds averages over $11, you must now buy your own DAB receiver or DAB adapter in order to listen to radio, whether it’s a state-run or privately owned radio station.
The government of Norway seems to be scrambling now to remind its citizens the changeover, first announced 25 months ago, happens this year. The capital area of Oslo switches off FM in September! Community and some small local radio stations in Norway will continue on FM at least until 2022 by government order.
Taking a cab in Oslo, my driver did not have the radio on in his car. He told me he doesn’t plan on getting a digital radio, opting for listening to music streaming from his phone. He says a new DAB radio would cost around 2,000-3,000 kroner (approx. $230-$345) not including installation. He told me, “I will live without that.”
Digitalradio Norge, which represents national radio channels, reports nearly 85% of all households in Nordland, the Arctic Circle-area home to steep mountains and narrow fjords and the first area of Norway that made the DAB changeover, have one DAB radio or more. However, their report indicated one-third of car owners in Nordland waited until the day of the changeover or later to update their car to DAB, and some still don’t have them. Making matters worse, when the first phase of the DAB changeover began in January, a survey found only 25% of all vehicles in Norway were equipped with DAB radios.
A disturbing side effect of the DAB changeover comes from data from a Kantar TNS survey that shows April radio listening in the Nordland area declined from three-quarters of the population listening to about two-thirds of the population listening to radio.
Norway’s DAB switch will be closely watched as Switzerland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are considering abandoning AM/FM radio. Sweden considered it too, but abandoned making the switch to DAB.
Jeff McKay, a veteran New York-based operations manager, newsman and traffic reporter, is a special features correspondent for TALKERS and RadioInfo. He can be emailed at McKayway@aol.com.