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

An Unwelcome Guest at the NAB Radio Show

This was the first year that I’ve actually attended the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention. Though I have been to two as a protester: the first in San Francisco in 2000 to let the industry know people were unhappy with their evisceration of LPFM, and again in Seattle in 2002 to culture-jam the airwaves and emphasize the continued vibrancy of electronic civil disobedience.

This time around, I figured things might be different, because I’ve grown a lot in the intervening years, left the radio industry for academia, and just wrote a book about one of the industry’s most pressing problems. Instead, I came away with the uncomfortable realization that the industry remains the purview of a bunch of old white guys wholly detached from reality and happy to keep things that way. Read More