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Norway Will Be the First Country to Shut Down Analog FM Radio

If you live in Norway, your radio may stop working soon. This month, the country announced it will shut down its national analog FM radio stations in 2017 -- becoming the first nation to set a shut-off date.

More may follow, as listeners go digital. Countries in Europe and Southeast Asia are considering establishing similar switch-off deadlines for traditional AM or FM radio, according to the Norway announcement.

The outlook for traditional terrestrial radio is getting murkier in the U.S. as well, as Pandora Media Inc., Spotify Ltd. and Sirius XM Holdings Inc. expand their audiences. In 10 years, half of the country’s about 11,300 AM/FM radio stations may disappear, unable to attract enough listeners and advertisers, said Gordon Borrell, CEO of media researcher Borrell Associates. And young people aren’t listening as much.

“Eventually what we know as radio will go away, just as what we know as newspapers and books will go away,” Borrell said. “It will take a long time. But science fiction is a great predictor of the future, and I don’t see anyone in ‘Star Trek’ listening to the radio or reading a newspaper.”

In some countries, older radio sets will stop working, as consumers are pushed toward digital radio channels. In Norway, a country of more than 5 million people, 7.9 million radio sets will face extinction, according to the Ministry of Culture.

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission is approving far fewer new commercial radio licenses than in prior years. Between 2000 and 2004, the agency approved 483 new commercial AM/FM licenses, but that number dropped to 262 between 2005 and 2009, and only 90 between 2010 and 2014, Borrell said.

“So the great slip has already begun,” he said.

People under 30 years old have options like Pandora and Spotify on their car and phone, and aren’t listening to the radio as much as prior generations, Borrell said. Advertising dollars will increasingly go online and to mobile, he said. Radio ad spending declined slightly last year, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.

Smartphones aren’t helping radio stations survive. While most new phones contain chips that let them access traditional radio broadcasts, most U.S. wireless carriers don’t turn that capability on, preferring that consumers stream their radio instead.

“That uses up data caps and once you blow through data caps an opportunity for increasing revenue exists,” Dennis Wharton, an executive vice president at the National Association of Broadcasters, said in an interview. “In Europe and Asia it’s a standard feature to have people listen to FM radio on their cell phones.”

The NAB is advocating for the feature to be turned on.

There are no plans to abandon analog radio in the U.S., Wharton said.

“There are much fewer radio stations in Norway,” he said. “They have more government-run radio stations.”

Stations around the world are moving to digital radio, which translates sound into numbers to transmit. Digital broadcasts typically offer better sound quality than analog, which uses electrical impulses that are similar to sound waves.

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