The Norwegian experiment: switching off FM

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

This week, I’m in the cold and snowy environment of Vienna in Austria, at the world’s largest radio conference, Radiodays Europe. 1,600 delegates (according to a pull-up poster and they never lie) are here.

Last Sunday I moderated a special workshop on the Norwegian decision last year to switch off FM. They’ve now done that for all national (and many local) radio stations, and, by market share, 95% of all radio listened-to is now no longer on FM, but online and on DAB+.

DAB+ is broadcast radio: a speaker in a box with an antenna, receiving a signal broadcast from on top of a hill somewhere. No SIM card, no data plan – but you do need a brand new radio. Online radio is, of course, different – and quite small in comparison.

Turning off FM was pretty courageous. The public service broadcaster did it to get more stations on-air – moving from three national stations to over ten national stations (and saving lots of money in transmission costs); the commercial stations did it to be able to run 8 stations instead of just one, and a relaxation in content regulation, too. In all, a typical Norwegian has moved from five stations on FM to more than 35 on DAB.

The last FM transmitters went silent in December, and weekly PPM measurement has been measuring what the audience have been doing; so the special workshop was a way of reporting back to the industry the effect of switching off FM.

The answer: surprisingly little. Commercial radio has grown slightly in market share; public radio has slightly shrunk. Daily radio listening is down by about 10%, but weekly listening, year-on-year, appears to have dipped by less than 2%. It’s not been a massive success, not that anyone was expecting that. But neither has it been a massive failure.

The commercial stations were quiet when I asked them about revenue, but it sounds as if, even though they’re running eight stations instead of just one, their costs haven’t changed much: a relaxation on content rules has helped. They feel they’ve made radio fit for the future.

The friendly Norwegians are keen that other countries learn from what they did – and in the room was at least one delegate from Switzerland, the country that’ll probably be next to turn off FM. 60% of radio listening is on DAB+ in the country already, and they’re keen to complete switchover by 2022, or even earlier.

Interesting to spot a happy band of keyboard warriors, keenly sending nonsensical emails to journalists about how bad DAB is in Norway and what an awful thing it is. It’s a lovely thing that radio gets people so emotional. Whether it’s HD Radio or DAB in the UK, there’s something about transmission techniques that works some people up. I’m delighted that people care so much.

Meanwhile, wait for May 17th, and we’ll get some clarity from the UK. That’s the next release of radio listening data from that country, and it’ll probably be the survey when digital listening goes above 50% for the first time. That’ll be the trigger for digital switchover, say the industry: which isn’t entirely true – it’ll be, instead, the trigger for the government to consider it. After years of the UK radio industry excitedly talking it up, they appear keen to urge caution.

Anyway, the Norwegians have put their story online – will find their website, with lots of data and information. It’s worth a read.

About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at

Contact James at [email protected] or @jamescridland



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