On Jan. 11, the small northern city of Bodo became the first city in Norway to go entirely to digital radio. The rest of Norway should be switched over by the end of 2017. Norway has not abandoned radio for the Internet. Rather, they're going to a new form of radio broadcasting.
Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) has a clearer radio signal than FM radio. It also allows many more stations than an FM signal.
Radio stations can pack eight signals onto one frequency, each with separate streams of music or information. In fact, a station could carry an AM and FM signal on a sub-frequency of their own digital station.
Norway's decision has been controversial and full of problems. Sixty-six per cent of the population in Norway opposed the decision, yet the government went ahead anyway. Switzerland and the U.K. are also considering a switch over in the next five years.
Is digital radio superior to current FM and AM radio? That depends on what you're looking for. Much the same as the debate between CDs and vinyl, you'll find fans of both a digital signal, which is distortion free, and an analog signal, which some find "warmer" than a sterile digital broadcast.
A station could sell separate ad packages for each sub-station on their frequencies, leading to more money coming into the station. However, current radios do not have the ability to pick up digital radio broadcasts.
A digital adapter for existing radios costs about $235. More than two-million cars in Norway do not have DAB receivers and will need to be adapted by the end of 2017.
Some critics have pointed out that emergency signals would be missed by non-DAB receivers as Norway does the switch over during the year. There's also the possibility of a lockout system, like Netflix, so only those who pay for the service would be able to hear it.
The U.K. has no plans to switch any time soon, saying it will review it when listenership for DAB reaches 50 per cent. DAB also covers less distance than an FM system, which, in turn, covers less distance than an AM signal.
For a small country like Norway, this system might work. But for a country like Canada, with huge distances between cities, there will be enormous gaps in DAB coverage. Another problem is cost to the radio stations themselves.
It currently costs Norway's broadcasters about $39 million to operate DAB stations, some of which will be covered by the government. With Canada's size and the current cost of DAB, I doubt we'll be seeing it here any time soon.
Mainly small and rich countries will benefit from DAB at this time, with much of the third world still relying on cheap and reliable AM and FM signals.
Steve Marlow is the program co-ordinator at CFBX, an independent radio station in Kamloops. Tune in at 92.5 FM on the dial or go online to thex.ca.