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No Zeptember or Rocktober in Norway – FM radio is being shut down

Chris Kim A linked to an Atlas Obscura post that linked to a phys.org post. The common topic of all of these is the phased shutdown of FM radio stations in Norway, beginning on January 11 and extending through the year.

I’ve talked about FM radio shutdowns before – my college campus radio station, KRRC, surrendered its FCC license several years ago. This was partly due to government hassles – other nonprofits kept on trying to grab KRRC’s spectrum allocation, and in some cases were successful, causing the radio station to move. (During my college years, a frequency change resulted in a change of KRRC’s slogan – the former submarine of the airwaves became the highest station on the dial.) Another reason – with only 10 watts of power, the station signal couldn’t go all that far. As digital radio technology improved, it became easier to just can the whole thing.

Norway actually has similar issues on a technological front. According to phys.org, “[t]he FM spectrum has room for a maximum of only five national stations.” There are already over 40 digital stations, so why not switch now?

Only one problem. Most of the population can’t receive those digital stations yet.

But many think the shift is premature.

A poll in Dagbladet newspaper in December found 66 percent of Norwegians are against shutting down FM, with only 17 percent in favour.

While around three quarters of the population have at least one DAB radio set, many motorists are unhappy, as only about a third of cars currently on the road are equipped.

Converting a car radio involves buying an adaptor for between 1,000 and 2,000 kroner (110 to 220 euros), or getting a whole new radio.

This is a common problem when a government phases out one service to replace it with another service – people aren’t willing to pay to make the change. Often the government has to force the issue, as the United States government did a few years ago when it forced the analog television channels to shut down in favor of digital channels. People who didn’t have cable had to buy special digital antennas to receive the new channels over the air. (But the antennas didn’t cost over $100.)

Should such a scenario happen in the United States, there is one advantage that we would have. While my smartphone cannot pick up digital radio broadcasts, it can pick up streaming Internet broadcasts via various apps such as the iHeart Radio app, so even if I didn’t buy a digital radio, I could still listen to some stuff on my phone as I drive.

However, the loss of FM radio in countries beyond Norway, probably also including the United States, will also have a cultural impact. While FM radio first appeared in 1945, it didn’t really hit its stride until the late 1960s, when FM “rock” stations began to appear. Technically, they offered better sound quality than the AM radio stations of the time. Culturally, they offered…well, something.

Hello, I’m Jim Ladd. (sucking sound) Now we’re going to play an entire album side of music, recorded live at the Spent Seed Hall by a supergroup featuring members of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, along with The Grateful Dead, Big Fat Green Colombian Marmalade, and The Archies. Put your headphones on now. After this, I’ll be heading out to the Sunset Strip, and the next show on this station will be hosted by The Rock Chick.

Hi, I’m the Rock Chick. After this 25 minute album side, I’ll be speaking to you in my deep gravelly voice and playing the new Zeppelin cut. Since it’s August 31, this is a great time to hear this, because we are going to be celebrating Zeptember all next month, followed by our celebration of Rocktober. Let me say that again in my deep voice – ROCKTOBER. Then I’m going to replay yesterday’s interview of a Black Panther at the local Free Clinic.

So what will the cultural impact of digital radio stations be? Will R. Crumb trucking give way to R. Scoble in the shower?

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