With the impending shutdown of the national FMs starting in less than a week in Norway, we thought it would be good to reach out to our correspondent there, Eivind Engberg, to see what’s really going on. Engberg is the CTO of Twentyfirst Venture AS and chief engineer of three stations in Norway: Radio Metro, The Beat and Radio Rox.
Doug Irwin: We know that the national network FMs are shutting down starting next week, but that local FMs will remain on-air, for at least 5 years. How are the local FMs different than the national ones, in terms of their power and coverage?
Eivind Engberg: Typically, Norwegian local FM networks are all low-power FM — LPFM — some up to 500-1000 W — but as long we have high mountains for transmitter locations, coverage from LPFM can be great, for road coverage.
Many of the local stations do have different coverage compared to the national channels. As a good example, NEA Radio in the middle of Norway does have better FM coverage than the national public broadcaster NRK, so they will not suffer from this — but some other local channels have worse coverage than the national channels. And some cities do not have local radio at all (such as Narvik). In these areas, there will be not any offering on the FM-band from 2017 — the only way is either DAB or internet radio.
Since some stations benefit from their existence on the FM band, also use DAB; they can use service following on their FM network from DAB — and get better/extended coverage. This is essential for car radios. Where the national commercial channels will cut the cord to the car receivers, the local stations will still be offering content for free to the car receivers — which are in millions.
Irwin: After the national FMs shutdown, is it reasonable to assume that local FMs will see an increase in their audiences?
Engberg: Well, if the content is great — undoubtedly it will increase! But without great content, which takes care of the "angry and upset" listener, there can also be a big decrease for stations which are not able to offer great content. I think some stations will close — but this is not because of the technology/content. It's the lack of a new generation running these stations.
Irwin: Is it possible that there may be a movement to use the “old” national FM facilities for new local stations, as least for 5 years? Or will there be many “junked” FM transmitters and antennas?
Engberg: The current legislation does not allow this because the FM network is only in an extension and are not in any renewal. Most of the local radio [stations] would like to get the old FM frequencies, but the government has not yet responded to the issue.
Irwin: You had mentioned to me that about 60% of Norway is covered by FMs from Sweden. Do you think listening of the Swedish stations will also increase? Is there a language barrier, or does that really matter?
Engberg: There's not any language barrier between Norwegian and Swedish. GatesAir recently upgraded the Swedish FM transmitters — and now I can get very good FM signal quality from the Swedish channels long inside Norway. Sweden was always in front of radio content and in the 60s and 70s Swedish Radio was very popular. For cross border traffic, Sweden will be able to provide truck drivers with music and information. There are a lot of truck drivers from Eastern Europe driving trucks to Norway and inside Norway. They will lose their radio in several parts of Norway — and all the road tunnels will exclude FM technology.
Stay tuned as we talk with Eivind next week, when the potential fallout (or lack thereof) from the national FM shutdowns starts.