This transmitter on Røverkollen north
of Oslo is one of 53 big ones. Neither
of those will be taken down, but
remain in use for digital radio.  

There are currently 2,034 FM transmitters in use to broadcast the radio stations of NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation) in Norway. What does that mean, exactly? Is that a lot or not? Well, there are 4,925,000 inhabitants in the land of the midnight sun, a very rural country with a lot of villages and remote farms, deep fjords and wild mountains. The topography and geography makes the country very hard to cover with any kind of a signal. Thanks to the stunning but challenging nature (especially in Northern Norway (where I was born 🙂 and on the West Coast (where I grew up ;)), one transmitter is needed for every 2,421 persons, on average.

Let us compare with Denmark, a country with 5,525,000 inhabitants. Norway is 7.5 times bigger area wise and Denmark has no mountains (barred a few hills stretching less than half the height of Empire State Building), so the comparison is not quite fair. Nevertheless, they only need 79 transmitters to cover their country with four main channels. That means one transmitter for every 69,936 person on average. A slightly less expensive country to cover, in other words.

Let’s return to Norway where the 2,034 transmitters have been put up on 1,179 sites (there are 25 sites in Denmark). A site is a tower or an antenna.

Why are there more transmitters than sites? 
There are more transmitters than sites because one FM transmitter can only broadcast one radio station. So if you want two radio stations in an area, you will need two FM transmitters, but only one site or antenna. In Norway NRKs three main stations P1, P2 and P3 are being broadcast via FM to ‘everyone’ while the two niche stations mP3 and NRK Always News are being broadcast in only 13 towns and cities. ‘Everyone’ means 99.8% of the population for P1, above 95% for P2 and above 90% for P3.

The situation is very different in a much better way with digital radio which, in 35 countries across the world, means DMB, DAB and DAB+. One such transmitter can transmit all the radio channels simultaneously. That saves electricity, but it more importantly ensures that ‘everyone’ will get all NRKs radio stations. ‘Everyone’ will in this case mean at least the same as what is currently the case for P1, NRKs main radio channel, an impressive 99,8%.

When the Norwegian government decides to switch off FM and digitalize radio as the last media, the number of sites will be cut in two to between 500 and 600. A similar number of towers can in other words be taken down and the equipment reused elsewhere or recycled. The number of transmitters will be cut in three or even four to the same number as sites needed to cover at least 99.8% of the population, between 500 and 600. That means a reduction of between 1,434 and 1,534 transmitters used for radio. The transmitters that are owned and operated by Norkring, a Telenor subsidiary, may in some cases also be used for other kinds of transmissions.

In addition to the three main radio stations and the two niche ones, NRK has eight additional niche stations (NRK Gold, NRK Sports, NRK Super, NRK Classical Music, NRK Jazz, NRK Folk Music, NRK Weather and NRK Sami (in Lappish)) that are available via DAB and web radio. By digitalizing radio, everyone will get access to all thirteen radio stations (plus additional commercial radio stations). Some people would call that democratization, others would call it choice.

DAB: Everyone Gets Everything (Alle fĂĄr alt).

Also relevant:
DAB is 20 Times Greener Than FM.

21 Reasons Why FM is Almost History. 

21 COMMENTS

  1. This is a questions that is relevant to all kinds of products. Let's take mobile phones as an example. There are sold 2.4 million of those every year in Norway. The average life expectancy is less than 18 months. Every year a mere 36,000 are recycled. Who is the bearer of those costs?

    Radios on the other hand can be upgraded to support DAB/DAB+. That can be done by a little receiver that receives DAB/DAB+ and then transmits the signal via a very low powered FM transmitter to your existing radio. Such products are already on the market, but the availability and price of those will go down dramatically as demand increases in more and more countries.

  2. The sales of 2,4 million mobile phones are driven by customer choice, hence the customers are willing to bear the costs.

    Shutting down FM leaves the customer with no choice.

  3. I think the driver for when to shut down the FM transmitters should be demand/supply. If the new product (DAB/DAB+) gives a lot of benefit compared to FM, then consumers will buy it if the price is right. What I am trying to say is that if the product is good enough, it will sell itself, and there will me no need to force it upon anybody.

  4. @Gunnar:
    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    @DJ:
    A switchover FM to DAB cannot and will not be made over one night. Instead a 'switchover date' should be set by the government(s).

    The 'switchover date' must be choosen to give SUFFICIENT TIME (years not days or months) for listners and industry to phase out old "FM-only" devices.

    The sales of '2,4 mobile phones' are not entirely driven by 'customer choice' only. It is a result of (a) the industry working towards a common technical standard and (b) the government(s) providing sufficient spectrum and necessary business models/conditions such as license periods AND switchover from older NMT/GSM systems.

    If all the millions radios sold on a yearly basis today would come with a digital tuner – the 'cost of making millions of FM-receivers obsolete' is in fact a non question.

    @Anynomus
    Spot on. But: much as for TV switching from analogue to digital, it will take significantly LONGER TIME without a switchover date. This means the cost for parallell distribution FM and DAB will be higher without a switchover date. And I dont see why consumers/listeners should be willing to pay that cost and not that of a 500 NOK digital radio?

  5. @DJ:
    First of all, Norwegian customers buy 800,000 radios a year. If they were told that FM would be shut off, in say 5 or 6 years, most households would from now on only buy DAB radios, hence being equipped with a DAB radio by the time of shut off, even without buying radios they would not anyhow buy.

    And they would still have a choice after an FM switch off. NRKs radio channels are also broadcast via the networks of cable TV and satellite TV companies as well as streamed via Internet radio and to apps via mobile telecommunication networks (Wifi, GPRS, 3G, 4G).

    And more of a curiosity; The guarantee of a gadget in Norway is usually 2 years according to the Purchasing Act (kjøpslova). If a gadget, i.e. an FM radio, stops working thereafter – well, most electronic retailers would tell you tough luck. If an FM switch off date is communicated to be in 5 or 6 years, exisiting radios would have served their purpose for an more than adequate time before not working anymore. And even then, you can make it work again through a small and cheap DAB-FM dongle as mentioned in my previous answer.

    @Pelle:
    Good point with the cost of double distribution which is anyhow paid by the license payers (NRK is a license funded public broadcaster just like the BBC). The electricity bill alone for transmitting FM in Norway for one year will cover the cost of at least 400,000 DAB radios, at market price. And of course the price of such a DAB radio would go down dramatically if someone orders 400,000 and not only 1.

  6. Just out of curiosity, if the product is so good and so cost effective, why is it then so difficult to sell?

  7. @Anonymous:
    1) It is not cost effective to transmit DAB while at the same time transmitting FM. But to get rid of double distribution (and only go for the by far cheapest technology) would be very cost effective.

    2) Digital radio isn't difficult to sell. When people are told of the advantages in a shop, most end up buying. (But when did you last go to the shop with the intention of buying a radio, or asking the sales manager about the various radio options?). The cheapest FM receivers are also still cheaper than the cheapest DAB receivers due to higher volumes, and a lot of people still look at price as their top priority.

    3) It is difficult to market a service that doesn't reach everyone, and broadcasters cannot afford to reach everyone until they know when FM can be shut off.

    4) 'And if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' It took between 30 and 40 years to successfully introduce FM in Britain as a replacement to AM. Despite FM being a better technology in most aspects. People have FM radios and listen to the stations that they are used to. They might not even know that they have a choice. Thanks to lack of marketing and lack of advice from sales managers.

  8. @pelle; @gunnar
    How many of the 800.000 receivers sold are found in mobile phones? How many FM recieivers aged more than i.e 10 years, are used on a daily basis? I think the answers of both questions are “a lot”.

    @gunnar
    If the lifetime of a product is regarded as more than two years, the “reklamasjonsrett” (the maximum time to discover a malfunction) is 5 years. It is also worth mentioning that “reklamasjonsrett” is not the same as “a guarantee” and the Norwegian High Court has ruled that there mobile phones are covered by 5 years “reklamasjonsrett”, meaning that mobile phones are expected to last significant longer than two years!

  9. What about modern cars with integrated FM radios? A large base of radio listeners is on the road.

    As this system is not an EU standard, the car manufacturers will not come up with an upgrade for cars already delivered (I have asked my dealer about this). As a result the radios in the many old cars this is the result of the high taxes on new cars in Norway, about 100%) will go dead.

    But it will be a great system for those who can afford new cars. The others have to wait some years to listen to the radio they equally have to pay for by NRK tax…

  10. @DJ:
    Mobile phones are not included in the numbers. The 800,000 only include gadgets where the radio is the main function or one of the main functions.

    A lot of radios in daily or weekly use are over 10 years old. So they are no longer covered by the guarantee or right of return. Mobile phones may be expected to last longer than two years, but hardly none of them are never put to that test as consumers prefer to buy new ones (usually costing 5-20 times more than a DAB radio).

    @Anonymous:
    The DAB technology is very much a EU standard. It is based on Eureka 147 which was developed and funded by the EU.

    Manufacturers are anyhow unlikely to upgrade the radios in existing cars, that is something you will have to do with the above mentioned FM-DAB dongle or by installing a new radio.

    If a a switch off date for FM will be 5 to 6 years from now, everyone will have ample time to upgrade both radios and cars.

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