Different tune: Norway moving away from FM

In April, Norway’s ministry of culture announced that on Jan. 11, 2017, the Scandinavian country will begin shutting down its FM radio band as it transitions to digital-only radio.

Those who follow such things believe this is the first step in the eventual worldwide change to digital radio. Wait? What? No FM radio? No way, Norway.

I always liked you, Norway. Well, at least I have since the fourth grade, the first year we studied geography in school. I was excited because geography was not part of the curriculum in the earlier grades. It was a subject I understood the older kids studied, and now I was studying it.

It felt like I was growing up. We were issued these big, hardcover textbooks. I leafed through mine and saw pictures of all the exotic places we would be visiting in class.

The first countries we learned about were Iceland, which we were told isn’t that icy; and Greenland, which we were told isn’t that green. We were given maps to color, which helped me understand the outlines of the two islands.

But you, Norway, were especially interesting because you were shaped like a spoon. I really liked coloring the map of you.

Also, we learned a strange word from your language, “fjord.” I was curious because I did not know another word that started with the letters “FJ.” And right at this moment, I am still at a loss to name any other word that begins with that letter combination.

I understand you have your reasons for abandoning frequency modulation and replacing it with digital. I learned through the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough that the cost of transmitting your national FM channels is eight times higher than going through the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) system.

Thorhild Widvey, your minister of culture, says it will save your country $25 million a year and will “release funds for investment in radio content.” Well, I’m all for governments saving money even if you are going use the savings to spend on something else.

I also learned that 55 percent of Norwegians have at least one DAB-equipped radio. Which made me wonder how the 45 percent who don’t have them will be affected. We don’t have cable in my home, so when television stopped broadcasting over-the-air analog signals here in Indiana we had to buy an adapter to get the digital signal.

Would it be possible to use some of the money you are saving to subsidize some of the poorest of those who won’t be able to get the new radio signals? Just a thought.

When this move to DAB goes global, I will be honest and tell you I am going to be a little nostalgic about losing FM radio. Of course, with all the changes in technology that have happened over the span of my life, I get nostalgic quite often. I know I shouldn’t. Change is the only constant, right?

AM radio was the major radio format when I was in the fourth grade. And it was on AM radio a few years later that I first heard The Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood.”

Then in the 1970s the format of choice became FM. It was an improvement over AM. “No static at all” is how the band Steely Dan puts it in their 1970s song “FM.” Aside from the financial aspect, DAB radio is an improvement in sound quality and efficiency, so it is logical that it will eventually replace FM.

(Oh, yeah. About the Beatles song I mentioned. Does it hold a special place for the people who live in your spoon-shaped part of the world? Just wondering.)

Well, I’m glad we had this little talk, Norway. I understand now why you are leaving FM behind, and I wish you success. Take care, and please say hello to the fjords for me.