Norway’s FM radio won’t go away that easily.
Two years ago the world press reported, often breathlessly, on the Scandinavian country’s plans to end its national radio services on the FM dial, switching them over to digital broadcasting. Lost in most of the reportage was the fact 200 local FM stations would remain on the air, while 65% of Norwegians opposed the shutdown. But, who lets facts get in the way of a sensational triumphalist headline declaring the first nail in radio’s coffin?
Last week more staid articles reported that the national FM shutdown has completed, with the last national FM stations in the northern Arctic reaches going silent. But the public won’t necessarily tolerate the silence.
According to a variety of sources, unlicensed FM broadcasts have popped up in cities around the country, including Bergen, Tønsberg, Ålesund, Fredrikstad and Førde. In Oslo, Norway’s largest city, the CBC’s “As It Happens” talked with one FM broadcaster—the CEO of a radio company and the chairman of the Norwegian Local Radio Federation—who refused to turn off his transmitter. He says that his station enjoys “great support” from listeners and is facing fines of more than $10,000 a day.
He goes on to tell the CBC,
But the main question is, why do you switch off a system in Norway where we have 10 to 15 million radio receivers? And you just say to the public, you’re not going to use this anymore because you need to buy new ones.
What sort of logic is that for media companies to operate that way?
I mean, you operate on behalf of the listener. Here, the big players are saying to the listeners: “No. You need to go out and buy new radio receivers.”
Note that with a population of 5.25 million people, a count of 15 million FM radio receivers is quite significant.
Five days after that CBC interview published Radio Metro gave into government pressure and finally shut down. However, the company is still broadcasting in 10 other cities.
Even with the national FM switch-off complete, the digital transition still remains unpopular with the Norwegian public. A recent Dagbladet newspaper survey found 56% of Norwegians are “dissatisfied” with the conversion to DAB. Another national news survey says 50% of people who don’t have a DAB capable radio in the car have no plans to upgrade, in part because they’re willing to rely on the local broadcasters that remain on FM.
To me, this situation seems a lot like Network Neutrality here in the U.S. In Norway you have millions of people—a true majority—who were perfectly happy with FM radio and had no wish to trade it in for a digital model with difficult-to-perceive benefits, aside from being digital. In America, 52% of registered voters in a Morning Consult/Politico poll said they support Net Neutrality, while a record number of people submitted comments to the FCC in support of the policy.
But like FM supporters in Norway, open internet supporters in the U.S. were screaming at deaf ears in Washington.
That’s why in Norway unlicensed broadcasters are filling the enormous void left behind by the country’s national broadcast industry and regulator. Which begs the question: what is the pirate radio equivalent of internet that we can build when our formerly open internet tubes get closed down to a trickle?