Switching Off Broadcast Radio
April 21, 2015
I don't know whether you've ever been to Norway. It's a lovely, laid-back kind of a place. Jump on the Oslo subway from downtown, and within twenty minutes it dumps you next to a picturesque lake (above). Buy a pint of beer and you'll be charged the equivalent of a small house. When the skiing championships are on, the nation stops to watch large screens erected by the public service broadcaster in the street.
A Norwegian I know (who works in radio) once took me aside and proceeded to show me photographs on his mobile phone of him killing and then skinning an elk. Another Norwegian I know works in radio but also teaches meditation. Another Norwegian I know works in radio but also has made it his life's goal to visit every country in the world (which he's achieved). Either I don't know any normal Norwegians, or this is what normal is in Norway.
They turned off AM radio long ago, but this week, Norway decided to switch off FM radio. By the end of 2017, your FM dial will be almost all hiss, all the way from 87.5 up to 107.9. They're replacing it with DAB+, the digital radio standard in Europe and Australia.
DAB+ is broadcast radio, through an antenna, just like FM or HD. It uses different frequencies and you tune in by name, not by frequency. You need a new set, which start at roughly $25; the transmitters broadcast a 'multiplex' of a number of different channels. Nearly 75% of new cars come with DAB+ installed in Norway.
Already, over 57% of listeners in Norway listen to digital radio - most on DAB, some on Internet and through the TV. The big growth for DAB+ coincided with a re-alignment of the NRK channel P1. P1, Norway's biggest station, reformatted to be a bit younger, and got rid of some of the older presenters and music. Vital for the survival of P1, but not so good for some of the older listeners, who felt a little alienated; so P1+ was launched: the older voices they knew and loved, and the older music choice, which included easy-listening and Norwegian folk. DAB sets literally flew off the shelves.
Benefits for listeners: the five national channels you get on FM will be replaced by 22 on DAB: additional choice from existing broadcasters and new broadcasters too. P1+ is just one example of that choice; there are plenty of new music formats too. Benefits for broadcasters: the cost of coverage on DAB is lower than FM, too. (Norway has a lot of hills.)
What's interesting to learn here is that…
- additional formats drive takeup of new technology (as long as you talk about them on-air)
- radio companies working together on new technology makes radio better
- this actually has nothing to do with DAB as a technology, but has everything to do with working together and additional formats
That's one tale of switchoff. Here's another: a UK Rock station, TeamRock, is coming off DAB shortly, and moving online only.
Now, if you listened to Everyone Who Thinks They Know About These Things, the future for all of radio is going to be delivered by smartphone. As a Brit, I've a phrase for this that probably doesn't translate too well, but "That's a load of bollocks" is what I say to that: I've a pile of boring data to support what a bad idea it is, and one day someone will pay me to produce a report or a presentation or something about it.
TeamRock coming off DAB and only onto smartphones should be ignored by their audience, who presumably are already listening on smartphones anyway. Right?
Wrong. The audience aren't happy about it at all, besieging TeamRock's Facebook page to moan and groan about coming off broadcast radio, complaining about how much data this'll all use on their mobile phone contracts, and generally highlighting this as A Bad Thing.
Switching off broadcast radio and moving to online radio? Good luck with that. But I'm not sure it's something I'd recommend to anyone soon.
I'm going to Toronto and Kuala Lumpur soon, and hope to report back from both these countries with interesting stories. If you're in those places, I'd love to catch up for a beer. But I'm also really very interested in what you'd like to know about radio in other countries. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter as @jamescridland - do get in touch.