I want a good selection of radio stations and merchandise in shops.
This little shop on wheels is in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. 

The Internet cannot substitute broadcasting as a distribution method for radio. I have covered this before: A Collapse of the Internet Narrowly Avoided Why 4G is Hyped – 21 Reasons Why FM is Almost History – Internet Radio Expensive in France Too.

So has radio futurologist James Cridland: 3G – radio’s future? – 4G for radio? No thanks.

Radio needs broadcasting. FM is broadcasting. Is radio via FM too valuable to society to be switched off and substituted by DAB/DAB+?

Before answering this question, let me ask and answer some others. Was analogue TV too valuable to society to be switched off and substituted by digital TV? No, this has already happened in most western countries. Why? Because television viewers demanded more channels of higher quality and analogue TV was too expensive and not advanced enough to provide this. And people watch more television than they watch radio in most western countries (182 vs. 101 minutes per day in Norway). Did viewers complain? Hardly at all.

So, how about radio? The FM frequencies are full. That means that there is no more room for additional radio channels. FM is very expensive due to high power consumption (one transmitter is needed per channel) and a lot of transmitters required to cover large areas. But maybe the existing radio channels are enough, maybe people are happy with the current selection. If that is the case, maybe FM is so valuable that it cannot be switched off.

But this way of arguing is like speaking for maintaining the shop system that has always been present in a communist country. The food selection consists of two kinds of cheese (both from the same valley), three kinds of bread (all white), one kind of butter (who needs low fat anyway?) and a couple salami types (made by a mixture of animals you don’t even want to be able to name).

Who is satisfied by this? Well, the customers have never know that French cheese, brown bread and baguettes, Irish butter and hundreds of kinds of sandwich meat from a range of animals even exist. They have therefore never complained very much (unless the food was outdated or tasted worse than normal). Neither has the farmers providing the cheese or the bakeries making the bread. They have always seen very little competition. That is good for business. They are virtually guaranteed a profit, no matter how low the quality of their food. Why would they want to change this?

Let the fight begin
Competition forces better quality. That is also true for radio.

In Norway, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) had a monopoly on television and radio until the early 90s. Most people (even those of us employed by NRK) think that the quality of programmes improved greatly after commercial competitors entered the scene. After all, people suddenly had a choice. That means that they don’t have to pick your product or programme anymore.

I would like the same to happen again to radio. More frequencies. More choice. More possibilities for good radio, new related services, interactive radio and on demand too. And I live in a country of less than 5 million people. Imagine what the situation is like in other, more populous countries. Where the market for new top quality radio stations with talented on-air personalities may be blooming, but where there are no available frequencies.

In order to make more frequencies available and enable a fair competitive environment, FM needs to be switched off in a range of countries. Not only in Norway. So that there aren’t possibilities for “communist shops” anywhere anymore. Not even where the listeners are too busy listening to their existing channels to even bother to try the new ones.

Radio channels should fight for their listeners. Before fighting you have to train. A lot. Those who train become better. Those who train the most usually win the fights. If both sides train equally much you get good fights. Let the fights begin, on even ground. Switch off FM. Give even better radio to the people.

So, is radio via FM too valuable to society to be switched off? Not more than “small communist shops.” They are valuable to society if located inside a museum. The same is the case with FM which should continue to exist in a museum, where it is heading and where it very soon belongs.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The problem is: When going to digital tv we all could keep our current tv-sets. It was just a new box in the living room, and for quite a few people not even a new box, as cable companies and satelite companies had been using digital tv for years already.

    Also digital-tv offered a much better picture. Anyone can see the difference between digital and analog tv.

    With radio, we have to trash millions of radios. There are literally no cars with DAB. No handsets (as the big mobile producers couldn't care less about DAB).

    People don't hear the difference, as the signal of FM already is pretty good. In some listening tests, FM ever provided better sound quality than DAB.

    And finally, indoor reception – sorry about the language – sucks blig time. When FM passes through walls quite easily, DAB is as easily stopped.

    I'm not against upgrading infrastructure and going digital: But PLEASE: Don't offer me something that's only slightly better (and in some cases worse), with a gigantic price tag. And hand me the bill afterwards.

  2. The device side of things is changing rapidly. Just as was the case many years ago when FM substituted AM. Both famous and not so famous manufacturers will increase their line up of DAB products in the very near future.

    Indoor coverage will also become much better. Keep in mind that FM has been built to cover "everybody." That is still not the case with DAB which only reaches around 80% of the population.

    I also disagree with you that a vastly increased selection of channels is only slightly better. Of course, both of us live in Oslo which has a good selection of channels (and other leisure activities), but most people live outside cities where such offerings are available.

    The price tag is furthermore not gigantic. You can get receivers costing less than 30USD (in Norway). The price will drop dramatically as demand increases. The cost of transmissions must also be taken into account, as you are paying for double distribution of both DAB and FM, the latter of which is much, much more expensive.

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