This week, Norway’s Ministry of Culture announced its plans to transition completely towards digital radio and turn off FM radio nationwide, according to an English report from Radio.no (the original announcement in Norwegian can be found here). The switch-off is scheduled to begin in January 2017, and it would make Norway the first country in the world to “decide upon an analogue switch-off for all major radio channels,” according to the announcement.
I find this very interesting – I listen to a fair bit of radio and, although I appreciate many of DAB’s features, there’s still a lot to be said for FM. And it’s not just nostalgia: the ubiquity of FM coverage and receivers means an awful lot, but benefits such as FM receivers having much better battery life are hard to ignore.
We’ll see more and more of these stories in coming years. The UK had been considering a relatively early switchover, as soon as 2015 or 2018. A more recent report hints that the ‘tipping point’ necessary for the UK government to re-consider switching off analogue signals will come around the end of 2016. Some countries will have more reason to switch over than others; I suspect that Norway’s geography and population dispersal may mean an early switchover makes more sense than other areas.
I recently picked up a decent little receiver – predominantly to noodle around on the short wave bands, but also as a decent FM device. Part of my reason for getting a new radio was as my previous receiver, a cute John Lewis FM/DAB model, chomps through batteries at quite an alarming rate (the supplied mains cable having bitten the dust some time ago). Annoyingly, the John Lewis model wasn’t even particularly power efficient in FM mode as it has a screen backlight which is on while the radio is on. It also has no clock or alarm features.
My new toy has a useful clock, alarm, and sensitive digital tuner. It’s compact, and covers a wide range of wave bands. It also appears to be very power efficient. The display is large and can be backlit – but, usefully, can be set to just come on for a few seconds when pressing buttons. I’m using it for a couple of hours a day, most days – and occasionally for many hours at a time.
It doesn’t do DAB – so I’m missing 6 Music. But I’m not missing better reception: I live in London, and the stations I want to listen to come through loud and clear. Even some of the stations I didn’t think I wanted to hear – pirate stations, which I’m surprised to find are still very much alive and healthy – are well received, and it’s quite fascinating to tune up and down the length of the FM band to see what is broadcasting.
And this is all before I even begin rambling about shortwave listening. Picking up direct radio signals from afar is still pretty thrilling. The fact that you can usually hear the same broadcasts online is helpful, but not at all the same. Knowing that you’re picking up a wireless signal that left a tower halfway around the world is really quite awesome. Even in this day and age.
Likewise, picking up local FM transmissions is a nice, direct connection between broadcaster and listener.
I had the unutterable joy of producing and co-hosting regular shows on Manchester’s All FM for a few years while I was at university. Knowing that the signal was leaving the studio not just via webcast, but via FM, was a huge part of the attraction of doing live radio.
And when I last visited Auckland, NZ, I was so happy to be able to tune in my personal little radio to 95bFM, a station that for so long I had only ever been able to hear as an internet stream. Feeling that close connection – by default, as I had to be nearby to pick up the signal – gave me quite a buzz.
In short: FM is great, and I’m glad it’s still going strong.