RADIO SILENCE: Today is the last day for FM radio in Svalbard – and Norway; some worry cutoff could be dangerous as well as annoying

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FM radio broadcasts will cease in Svalbard, Troms and Finnmark on Wednesday, making Norway the first country to completely phase out FM – a move some worry will be more than just a nuisance, since people such as fisherman in remote seas may face life-threatening situations because information such as weather reports are unavailable.

Advocates for the FM shutdown such as Digital Radio Norway assert it’s costly to broadcast FM and digital signals to a relatively small nationwide population that spans a lengthy area, FM listenership has declined in recent years, and the vast majority of Norway’s radio broadcasters are now digital. They argue the shutdown elsewhere in Norway has occurred without significant problems throughout this year and expect the same will happen when the northernmost regions become the last to cease FM transmissions.

“After Dec. 13th, you can listen to nationwide channels via the Internet/mobile, via the TV or DAB radio,” said Ole Jørgen Torvmark, general manager of Digital Radio Norway, in a prepared statement. “Although a large majority of listeners are digital, we have a great understanding that not everyone seems to upgrade the radio, especially by car. The radio industry will, of course, guide those who need it.”

But criticism has been plentiful throughout Norway about everything from the lack of public input about the decision to the cost of buying digital receivers to the greater difficulty of locating stations to less-than-promised broadcast quality. Nordlys, in an editorial Tuesday, argued the policy may have far more dire consequences in the far north.

“It is bad enough that parts of the population who go out at sea and elsewhere in the radio shadow will be treated in this way,” the newspaper wrote. “Worst, however, is that outside fishermen will not get the weather reports on the radio when the FM network closes. There are few professions in this country that are as dependent on weather reports as them. For the fishing fleet in the north, it is a matter of life or death, not least in winter. It seems incredible that NRK has apparently not relied on this fact with the seriousness and responsibility that is required.”

The editorial received about 20 reader comments by early Tuesday afternoon, nearly all harshly critical of the FM shutdown for various reasons. But Håvard Pedersen, a system developer at The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, noted Norway announced its intentions long ago.

“The time for these complaints was five years ago,” he wrote. “Transmitters in most of the country are already disassembled and turned off. And the FM network has not been maintained for at least twice as long because they knew it would be turned off. Bringing it back would mean replacing almost everything.”

Bjarne André Myklebust, NRK distribution network director, told Svalbardposten assessments were made of digital coverage in the vicinity of Longyearbyen this summer, and transmitters at Skjæringa and on Platåberget should provide better signals than FM, especially in fjords and further out into the ocean areas.

Svalbardbutikken had an ample supply of DAB radios on shelves Tuesday, ranging from portable units costing 449 kroner to full stereo units with transmitters costing more than 2,000 kroner.

The following stations will cease transmission Wednesday: NRK P2, P3 and P4; Radio Norway; NRK P1 Finnmark; NRK P1 Troms; NRK Always News and NRK mP3. Norway has 31 national DAB that will be available to those with digital receivers.

A majority of Norwegian listeners are now using digital radios and 82 percent of Norwegian radio broadcasters are digital, according to a survey by Kantar Media  in September 2017.

The nationwide shutdown generated worldwide headlines, with Nordland being the first region where transmissions ceased on Jan. 11.

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