Digital Radio: Norway and U.S. Pursue Different Paths, Yet Share Uncertainties

There’ve been some interesting developments in the digital radio realm over the last couple of months. The one that’s gotten the most press is Norway’s decision to begin shutting down its FM radio stations in favor of its DAB/DAB+ digital radio network. This has been a long time in coming, first proposed in 2015 by the Norwegian government and with buy-in from the country’s national broadcasters. That’s an important point, because the FM-shutdown, as reported in various press outlets, insinuates that all FM broadcasting in Norway is being silenced immediately.

Not true: the shutdown of stations that began this month, and continues incrementally throughout this year, only affects the country’s national broadcasters; local FM stations have at least another five years on the air before they, too, may be asked to cede the analog airwaves. A lot can happen in those years…at present, the popular sentiment in Norway about the FM shutdown is running 2-to-1 against it, especially as the analog stations disappear, their coverage areas are not served by DAB/DAB+ to the same extent as they were with plain ol’ FM, and Norwegians find themselves forced to buy digital receivers to stay engaged with radio.

It comes as no surprise that American journalists, seeing themselves at the center of the universe, would pose the question: could such an analog/digital shutdown happen here? If they were more knowledgeable about the digital radio technologies that exist they’d know the answer is no, as the U.S. has elected to use its own homegrown and proprietary digital radio technology, whose adoption is entirely voluntary. There’s also the fact that Norway only has a population of five million people — equivalent to the state of Wisconsin – and navigating a shutdown in a nation with 64 times the residents means an entirely different transition-mechanmism, which hasn’t even been seriously consered by any constituency here. Read More

European Digital Radio Transition A Mixed Bag

This month, the Media Intelligence Service of the European Broadcasting Union published a comprehensive overview of the state of digital radio broadcasting throughout the continent. Unlike in the United States, where there’s little love for our proprietary, spectrum-squatting HD Radio system, many European countries are making such great strides with their digital-exclusive DAB/DAB+ networks that they’re mulling the sunsetting of analog radio within the next decade or so.

European Brodcasting Union DAB/DAB+ Map, 2016The EBU report contains mini-briefs on 21 countries and says states like Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom lead the way in building out their digital radio systems and enticing listeners to migrate to them. Other countries such as Germany and France – who were key innovators in the DAB/DAB+ development cycle – only committed to building out a digital radio network earlier this decade. Even so, in Germany the sales of digital radio receivers already outpace analog radio sales. Read More

Comparing Progress: HD Radio vs. DAB/DAB+

The annual NAB Show in Las Vegas is now behind us, and with it a bevy of announcements regarding HD Radio, the U.S. digital radio standard:

1. More test-results were announced regarding the workings of all-digital AM-HD Radio. Not many details: additional stations have conducted field-tests, and while the digital signal does sound better than the analog and hybrid analog/digital ones, it’s not as robust as hoped, leading many in Vegas to believe that, if the FCC does authorize the use of all-digital AM-HD this year, it’ll be for the daytime only. Read More

Digital Radio’s Global Consensus

It’s a tale of two futures for broadcasting. In the United States, as the radio industry and regulators wrestle with a poorly-designed and proprietary digital radio standard, online competitors are eroding the market share of stations and redefining radio itself in the process. Our reaction so far has been carefully-cultivated denial and wild swings between cheerleading and hand-wringing. Contrast that with Europe, which has widely adopted the Eureka 147 DAB standard. Now nearly 30 years old, DAB has gone through an evolution of its own, and the latest variant is called DAB+.

Many countries that initially adopted DAB are rebuilding their networks to accommodate DAB+. Cross-compatible receivers are on the market, and since the system works on non-broadcast spectrum, countries have some flexibility on how to build and deploy their digital radio networks. Read More

HD Radio: New Frontier in Norway?

Fresh off the heels of the NAB Radio Show came news that an FM broadcaster in Norway is testing the all-digital FM-HD Radio system. According to Radio World, the tests have been conducted under the auspices of the Norweigan Local Radio Association, the industry’s longest-running trade association.

Recently, two large commercial broadcasters split off from the NLRA and have created their own lobbying arm, advocating for the eventual switch-off of FM broadcasting in Norway (in favor of DAB+). The NLRA has long promoted allowing broadcasters to retain their legacy FM infrastructure; is this affair with HD Radio a strategic maneuver to convince Norwegian regulators to drop the switchoff? Read More