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Norway will become the first country in the world to switch off FM radio

Ino Andre Nilsen, an employee at an Expert City electronics shop in Oslo, shows an adapter that can be plugged into a car FM radio. (Alister Doyle/Reuters)

FM radio broadcasting was invented in the United States in 1933. After a slow start, it became wildly popular all around the world, largely because the frequency modulation technology used offered better sound quality than the existing amplitude modulation (AM) transmissions.

But the era of FM radio may be coming to an end. After more than 60 years of using the system, Norway is set to become the first country in the world to turn off its FM radio network — and others may soon be following its example.

Reuters reports that the shutdown will begin next week, with the northern town of Bodoe switching off its local network on Wednesday. By the end of the year, all FM broadcasts in Norway will have ended, replaced by Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) transmissions that generally offer better sound quality.

A number of countries have suggested they might also shut down FM at some point soon. Switzerland, for example, has set a date of 2020 for a switch from FM to AM. “Many countries are now looking to Norway to learn,” Ole Jorgen Torvmark, head of a project called Digital Radio Norway being run by national broadcasters to aid the transition, said when the 2017 shutdown was first announced in 2015.

The decision to shut down Norway’s FM radio system was made by the country’s parliament in 2011. The government suggested that the cost of having both an FM radio network and a DAB network was prohibitive in a country with only 5 million people. Additionally, the country’s many mountain ranges and fjords left some areas without FM radio coverage.

Estimating that the cost of FM was eight times higher than digital, Norway’s government argued that the savings could be spent on improving radio content. “Radio digitization will open the door to a far greater range of radio channels, benefiting listeners across the country,” then-Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey said in a statement in 2015. “Listeners will have access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content, and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality.”

But many Norwegians are unhappy about the switchover. An opinion poll conducted last summer on behalf of the daily newspaper Dagbladet found that 66 percent of respondents were against the shift from FM to DAB, while just 17 percent supported it.

For many, the opposition to the switch may come down to simple economics. Digital Radio Norway has estimated that 7.9 million radio sets will be affected by the FM switch and that only 20 percent of private cars have DAB radio systems. An adapter to switch an FM car radio to a DAB system may cost 1,500 Norwegian crowns ($174.70), according to Reuters.

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