back to article FM now stands for 'fleeting mortality' in Norway

Norway has become the first country in the world to shut down FM radio. The Scandinavian nation has begun a gradual shutdown that will see FM broadcasts start to be phased out later this month, and concluding entirely by the end of the year. Nationwide broadcasts will instead be offered through digital radio channels. The …

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  1. Ledswinger Silver badge

    $28m a year?

    Wow. Was it worth the upheaval and the vast expense to save a frankly trivial amount n what is (per capita) one of the world's richest countries?

    And judging by the UK's misguided adventures in DAB, the idea that it is either cheaper or easier to get better DAB coverage over FM in unfavourable terrain is nonsense. As for "better sound quality", what had he been smoking?

    At leas this confirms the universal stupidity of politicians.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: $28m a year?

      Receivers are capable of DAB and DAB+, radio stations will probably fully switch to DAB+ this year. The bandwidth given to each station is higher than the UK's swampy efforts. Government also hands out free* car conversion kits.

      * well yes, financed from taxes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: $28m a year?

        Where are these 'free' conversion kits. I had to go and buy one for my wifes car. I'm not buying one for mine, I will do without radio. I'm in the north so FM goes in 10 days. With half of the populations cars here in Norway not supporting DAB, kind of stupid turning off FM, but good for the companies making DAB radios and conversion kits.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: $28m a year?

          The car conversion kits in Norway cost the equivalent of £140. Not free.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: $28m a year?

            "The car conversion kits in Norway cost the equivalent of £140. Not free."

            Sounds expensive. A quick Google find quite a few for far less than that price.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: $28m a year?

              One of the cheapest: http://www.clasohlson.com/no/Denver-DAB+-mottaker-for-bilstereo-/38-7687 : ~£67

              One of the recommended : http://www.clasohlson.com/no/Tiny-Audio-C3+-DAB+-FM-biladapter-/38-6251-1 : ~£134

          2. Dan 55 Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: $28m a year?

            The car conversion kits in Norway cost the equivalent of £140. Not free.

            That'll teach me to believe what I read on the Internet.

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: $28m a year?

      Speaking as someone who used to work in the broadcasting industry and specifically DAB - Norway are nuts. I don't know how audiences are measured in Norway but if they're done as they are in this country some stations will suffer seriously. There's a reason that our (misguided*) DAB switchover is only happening when we've got most people on digital listening. *I say misguided because the target is digital listening not DAB listening and some of what's classed as digital listening by RAJAR might not actually be like Mobile Phones. On top of that there always was when I was working in the industry questions about RAJAR. No one will come out and say this when they're in the industry because no one can afford to shake the confidence the advertisers have in the data. If you're going to lose 60% of your audience virtually overnight then that's not going to go down well with the advertisers and I doubt the projected savings will cover that. Some of those listeners won't come back as they discover alternatives and it takes far more effort/cost to get a listener back than it does to keep them. Also need to factor in more stations equals less listeners per station and the same advertising money split more ways. Plus when running a station why would you want something that allows people to easily find and switch stations? The only thing you can do on DAB that you can't do on FM is have more stations (depending on the bit rate used) everything else can be done by RDS/EON etc.

      Still....Best of luck to them.

  2. davyclam

    When I worked in Norge on the coast near Trondheim I could listen to BBC radio 5, radio Scotland and radio 4 on MW/LW on my car radio, I believe broadcast from the Burghead transmitter. All is not lost, they'll get the cricket and ISIHAC, plus Robbie Shepherd.

    1. wyatt

      A shame I didn't know this when working at Orland Air Base, would have been a slight bonus.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is my experience that UK FM holds up well at times of poor reception - whereas UK DAB often "burbles" or blanks completely.

    Do other variants of DAB perform better than the UK one?

    1. Vic

      Do other variants of DAB perform better than the UK one?

      In terms of sound quality, they do. The UK forged ahead with DAB, making a switch to DAB+ rather harder than it should have been. You know how crap MP3s can sound? DAB is restricted to MP2 *only*.

      I doubt that will make any difference to the dropout rate, though.

      Vic.

  4. Christian Berger Silver badge

    It's not the first country

    Australia already shut it down in 1961:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FM_broadcasting_in_Australia

    1. Andrew Commons

      Re: It's not the first country

      Well Wikipedia says this in the link you have provided:

      "Today, as elsewhere in the developed world, most Australian broadcasting is on FM - although AM talk stations are still very popular."

      It came back.

      1. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: It's not the first country

        Who says Norway might not get back to FM? Or perhaps have a new generation of FM stations? Pirate stations perhaps. Since DAB covers Band III and FM covers Band II, there's no reason both standards can't coexist.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: It's not the first country

          All bets are on the FM bands getting sold for massive amounts of money to companies that will make massive amounts of profit on those bands. And enforcement on FM radio transmitters will probably be strict and severe.

          1. Christian Berger Silver badge

            Re: It's not the first country

            FM-transmitters are so simple to build yourself that it's virtually impossible to regulate them.

            Broadcast Band II is kinda impossible to use for non proadcast applications as it's to low in frequency and to narrow for serious cellular applications. You could use it for paging... but then again our paging networks are already kinda dying.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It's not the first country

              FM-transmitters are so simple to build yourself that it's virtually impossible to regulate them.

              Go to this page and do a search from 87MHz—108MHz… are you arguing those licensees listed are doing it illegally?

      2. coconuthead

        Re: It's not the first country

        The main reason AM hangs around here in Australia is that several of those "talk" stations are run by the government broadcaster (the ABC, like the BBC) and have a major function as emergency broadcasters during natural disasters. In the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 the 774kHz service broadcast from near Melbourne was by far the main information/emergency information channel for people threatened by the fires. Mains power had failed in those areas (usual with fires), the emergency web sites collapsed under the load, and there was mobile phone tower congestion. But almost everyone had an AM radio, especially in their cars and knew to tune in to that frequency.

        In normal times, 774 is a talk station with some serious political coverage.

        The 774 transmitter is very powerful and can be heard for hundreds of km. This is not so for DAB. AFAIK most or all of the DAB+ standard enhancements to DAB were designed in Australia for the express purpose of replacing 774 and its sister statiions, and then the standard gifted to the rest of the world.

        However, typically cars here still have only AM and FM, so 774 can't be shut down yet, probably for a decade or more.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not the first country

      My FM set begs to differ.

  5. DrXym Silver badge

    DAB+

    Every country should start dumping FM and free the space for DAB+ with a plan to sunset DAB a few years on from that.

    The problem with digital radio was it came too soon, at least in the UK. DAB uses a crappy MP2 audio codec. DAB+ flipped to AAC allowing better quality for a lower bitrate.

    1. Credas Silver badge

      Re: DAB+

      Hey, great idea - let's follow the TV model and obsolete our radios every few years as well. Did you have a date in mind for sunsetting that old school DAB+?

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: DAB+

        Yes it is a great idea. It means you get to watch TV in high definition, with more channels, while using less of the radio spectrum.

        Though perhaps you prefer 4:3 405 line monochrome analogue because nothing should change ever.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: DAB+ DrXym

          Its more a question of replacing 4K full colour TV with 4K full colour TV with seriously reduced reception and usability cos 'new is better even if it really isn't'

          1. DrXym Silver badge

            Re: DAB+ DrXym

            "Its more a question of replacing 4K full colour TV with 4K full colour TV with seriously reduced reception and usability cos 'new is better even if it really isn't'

            I don't even know what you're talking about here.

          2. druck
            FAIL

            Re: DAB+ DrXym

            Tom7 wrote:

            Its more a question of replacing 4K full colour TV with 4K full colour TV with seriously reduced reception and usability cos 'new is better even if it really isn't'
            No its more like going from 4K back to SD, most of the DAB channels are mono rather than stereo and at bit rates that give audio quality up there with telephone hold music.

            It wasn't until Freeview HD arrived that I got a better digital pictures than with a good analogue signal. The artifact riddled Freeview SD was awful even before they reduced the bit rate to fit in all the shopping and +1 channels. Maybe the difference between DAB and DAB+ would be the same leap as Freeview SD to HD, but as it isn't happening in the UK, leave FM the hell alone.

            1. DrXym Silver badge

              Re: DAB+ DrXym

              " No its more like going from 4K back to SD, most of the DAB channels are mono rather than stereo and at bit rates that give audio quality up there with telephone hold music."

              No it's more a case of DAB+ is demonstrably better than FM in every way and that's where the UK should be going. DAB is crap however which is why UK needs to demonstrate some backbone.

              DAB+ should be promoted and FM should be end of lifed in the short term. DAB can transition and end of life. Some people don't appear to comprehend this. Probably the same people flicking over 50+ channels of terrestrial TV without recognizing the irony.

              1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

                Re: DAB+ DrXym

                DAB+ is demonstrably better than FM in every way

                Cost for transmitting with more TX per coverage area?

                Cost/complexity for the receivers?

                Cost for replacing radios in perfectly good cars that last 10-20 years but have non-standard fittings (like all fscking cars seem to have now)?

                Battery life for receivers?

                Ability to save money by degrading to shitty bit rates because more channels per mux appear to give more advertising revenues?

              2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: DAB+ DrXym

                "No it's more a case of DAB+ is demonstrably better than FM in every way and that's where the UK should be going. DAB is crap however which is why UK needs to demonstrate some backbone."

                It's just the leapfrog effect. Early adopters are needed to start the ball rolling but it costs more initially. Then there needs to be an ROI on that initial infrastructure and/or consumer devices. It's the same as it's always been.

                Back in the day, I was jealous of our US friends for having cool stuff like push button phones. When the UK eventually started to modernise the phone system, they installed better kit than most of the US had, so we had better features on the POTS system. Similar applies to cable TV/Internet. We were late to the game, but got better initial kit because of that. With DAB, we were the early adopters so took the early system, made even worse my the accountants who specify mono and low bit rates on a system designed to be descent quality because they wanted more stations in a given multiplex. Just because new shiny is available doesn't mean it's economic to buy/install it and for national infrastructure, that is going to involve more tax payers cash.

              3. JimboSmith Silver badge

                Re: DAB+ DrXym

                With good reception on both systems, apart from extra channels what can DAB/DAB+ offer that FM with RDS/EON etc. doesn't?

                1. TheDillinquent

                  Re: DAB+ DrXym

                  Er.... lots of cash for those selling off the spectrum to telecos?

              4. Kiwi

                Re: DAB+ DrXym

                No it's more a case of DAB+ is demonstrably better than FM in every way and that's where the UK should be going.

                Oh? Is the quality of the content going to somehow be magically better? No? Is it going to have better coverage? No? Is it going to have better quality in fringe reception areas? No? Is it somehow going to magically reduce the road and other noise in your car while you drive? No? What about the acoustics of you house? Still no? Will it magically improve the rest of your audio kit? Another no?

                Then what is it going to do better than FM? I'm in a really fringe area, yet get great FM reception. I'm a little under 100m from the nearest digital TV transmitter, but I can't get any detectable signal from it even on a very high gain antenna. I can tell you that this house was able to receive the old analogue signals from the same mast back when we had them.

                Digital seems to often reduce costs (equipment including receivers need replacing) while reducing overall quality. As others have mentioned, digital tv tends to be quite crap. I've seen enough "HD" to see it often suffers from colour banding and lots of blocky artefacts, and that's on decent kit in good reception areas. Lets not have another idiotic digital failure.

                1. Vic

                  Re: DAB+ DrXym

                  I've seen enough "HD" to see it often suffers from colour banding and lots of blocky artefacts

                  That will be down to economics, not electronics. HD digital TV *can* be transmitted such that most people will not see any artefacts - but that takes up bandwidth, so it costs money. What most stations seem to do now is to wind the quantisation up as far as they think they can get away with, then a bit more besides. You end up using 4 bits per fortnight, but the video is unrecognisable.

                  I was there while digital TV was being developed. The focus was *always* about getting more channels so that there would be more advertising space. And all that happened there was that the advertising rates crashed.

                  Vic.

              5. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: DAB+ DrXym

                Drive through Mid-Wales with your DAB radio.

                Enjoy the silence, broken by occasional burbling, screeching noise and just occasionally a bit of broadcast radio.

                Actually forget that, drive anywhere in the country with even the slightest embankment around it.

                To quote my kids just last week in a hire car.

                "Why does the radio keep turning off?"

        2. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: DAB+

          >Yes it is a great idea. It means you get to watch TV in high definition, with more channels, while using less of the radio spectrum.

          Ah yes, that's what we need, more TV channels.

          >"Listeners will have access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content, and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality," said then-minister of culture Thorhild Widvey. "Digitisation will also greatly improve the emergency preparedness system, facilitate increased competition, and offer new opportunities for innovation and development."

          Such a great idea, he moved on before the project completion.

          Don't get me wrong, digitisation has some advantages, but they are mostly for vendors, not listeners. Listeners can almost certainly get radio stations digitally some other way - streaming or (usually better) podcast. Adding complexity for the same function is pretty dumb and radio is very much a car-based thing now which means that for most people, sound quality is not the be-all and end-all of the medium.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: DAB+ @DrXym

      I totally agree that DAB was rolled out in the UK too early, but it's always difficult difficult to change things once they're generally (if you can say this about DAB) adopted.

      Switching to DAB+ will be disruptive and expensive for those people who have already forked out for kit, and will be disruptive because they will have to reduce the available channels for DAB while they transition to DAB+ (they're not going to allocate any more spectrum during the roll-out).

      Even if they offer a subsidy on new kit, I'm a skinflint, and don't want to re-buy, even at a discount, replacements for the 5 DAB radios I already have.

      Mind you, I don't listen to it much at the moment, because for the coverage for my current commute (the time I use DAB most) is very patchy.

      But I think DAB is dying in the UK. Some of the channels I used to listen to have left DAB as a platform, because (I understand) the cost of operating a DAB station is of the order of a million pounds per year, whereas transmitting over the Internet is much lower, and if you can get DAB somewhere, you're probably also able to get reasonable mobile data service. This shifts the cost of a broadcast service from the provider to the listener. I object to this (did I say I was a skinflint).

      I think that by the time they are prepared to suggest a switch to DAB+, there will be no appetite for any over-the-air digital broadcast radio service any more.

      But I do believe that there is still a place for analogue radio. It's still the best coverage, the best in terms of battery consumption for mobile devices, and the most widely adopted. I also think that it has a place in civil defence, because in the case of some national emergency, the digital infrastructure will be one of the first things to be affected. Operating an FM (or even AM) service is within the reach of a reasonably competent tinkerer in electronics using readily scavenged components, whereas digital broadcasting requires much more sophisticated knowledge and infrastructure.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: DAB+ @DrXym

        "I totally agree that DAB was rolled out in the UK too early, but it's always difficult difficult to change things once they're generally (if you can say this about DAB) adopted."

        No it isn't, not really. All that needs to happen is the appropriate regulatory authority mandates that new kit adopts the new tech and announce that the old tech is going to be switched off on such a date. There is a reasonable period of notice, an overlapping period during which the old and new tech operate side by side to encourage adoption. And then you stick to this timetable.

        Attrition will mean that by the time the date rolls around the majority of people probably have kit that plays the new tech anyway. This has happened enough times for enough tech in enough countries to know it works just fine. It will work fine in Norway.

        The only result of dithering is you now have two technologies to support and all the expense and waste of spectrum that goes with it.

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: DAB+ @DrXym

          Yeah because that's going to work with radio so well. We have millions more radios than TV sets in this country and old FM/AM radio sets just keep on working. The figures that Gfk produce about sales don't include certain types of FM receivers but do include DAB in all forms of product I believe. So mobile phones that have an FM radio which are sold don't count as an analogue radio for example. We've only reached the number of sales that we have today by basically only selling sets with FM&DAB (and DAB+ to be able to get the Tick Mark) and mostly not offering analogue radios. A "radio amnesty" giving you money off a new DAB for you old analogue set was also tried.

          Therefore I don't take the number of digital radios vs analogue radios sold as a serious figure. We're not even suggesting shutting off the FM band in this country just moving the popular stations off it a couple of years after we get to a certain percentage of "Digital Listening". We aren't going with a percentage of DAB listening because this would have taken far longer to achieve than people (e.g. commercial broadcasters/government) were willing to wait. We only got the existing analogue stations on board because the government said they could bid for the multiplexes (and therefore become gate keepers) and instead of auctioning the analogue licences at the end of their term rolled them over (and therefore reducing the risk of losing your licence to almost 0%).

          It has taken nearly 20 years and well over a billion quid and we still haven't got 50% of the population listening to DAB. Now you're suggesting that the poor sods who bought DAB/FM or DAB only sets (and that's a fair few of the sets) should be made to junk them. That's going to be about as popular as a combination of sand, deep heat and metal shavings in the vaseline with the public. The other thing is most people only listen to one or two stations and if they get reasonable reception and therefore changing all their radios (my mum has 6 for example excluding her car) is low on the priority list.

          She has one DAB set but only fringe reception inside her house and if anyone moves that radio especially the aerial they're for it, as it reverts to bubbling mud. That's an old one I bought but don't use anymore and had in storage in her loft. Her original expensive Roberts DAB went wrong last year and stopped working. She is loathed to buy another given the expense of doing so when she's got perfectly good analogue ones that still work 30 years later. She only listens to Radio 4 and is happy with the 198kHz service in the bedroom, reception is rock solid.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: DAB+ @DrXym - Replacement kit

          Your plan does not take into account the restricted spectrum that I mentioned during the transition. I still think it is unlikely that extra spectrum will be allocated during the switchover. Maybe Norway will, but I'm pretty certain that Ofcom in the UK won't.

          You also assume that people are happy to replace functioning equipment after a number of years. I will and do operate kit until it breaks (and if I can, I fix it when it does break), so I expect a DAB radio to last me 10+ years (my oldest DAB radio is about 12 years now, and still functioning). Even at this age, I would be upset about being forced to replace it.

          I know a significant number of people who objected to buying new TVs or set-top boxes in the UK when analog TV was switched off.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: DAB+ @DrXym

        "if you can get DAB somewhere, you're probably also able to get reasonable mobile data service."

        The downside being, of course, that all-you-can-eat mobile data is expensive. A DAB radio is a one-off cost.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: DAB+ @DrXym @John Brown re: mobile data

          and I then followed this up with a statement indicating it was shifting the cost from the broadcaster to the listener, so I have already agreed with your point.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: DAB+

      I think there are two major problems with DAB (possibly DAB+ too but I cant be arsed to check):

      Changing channel. I only listen to one channel but when the kids come and change channel it seems to take forever - a good couple of seconds so its easy to miss a lot of a program trying to find the bastard. The display knows what's coming but the decoder is still trying to work out what the fuck to do with the KW its consuming.

      Reception. Coverage is unbelievably shit down our way - Devon with lots of hills and valleys and while they may work for a tv aerial and booster its absolutely no good for an indoor reception in new houses - let alone cob walled buggers like mine.

      Should they ever drop fm here I shall probably see if I can make raspberryPi zeros into internet radio reception devices to put into all my current FM devices - at least I wont have to redecorate the house to suit the 'well it looked good on a duke box in 1950' designs cluttering up the shops.

      1. Ogi

        Re: DAB+

        > raspberryPi zeros into internet radio reception devices to put into all my current FM devices

        Personally, what I would do, is see if I can could wire up the PI's to those personal FM transmitters you can buy online for car radios. That way you don't have to modify every single FM receiver in your house, and you have a central place to control it (if you felt like it, you could program the transmitters to use the same frequency the radio station used before, so that it is pretty much seamless, and you keep your stored stations on the radio).

        1. Jan 0
          Pint

          Re: DAB+

          @Ogi

          Thanks for that thought. That's a nice way for me to save my Quad FM2 & 3s from landfill.

          Somebody should start manufacturing suitably camouflaged devices.

      2. Uberseehandel

        Re: DAB+

        Channel switching is important - take too long about it and it is a show stopper.

        A few years ago there were plans for DVB-H (handheld), along with DVB-T (terrestrial), DVB-C (cable) and DVB-S (satellite). Trials went well, most of the technology issues with respect to playout centres and network design were solved and costs were as anticipated. The killer was that it took too long to switch channels, from memory 4 seconds. This channel switch delay sent viewers back to streaming over the internet. Fortunately the mobile networks managed to cope, but there was a lot of serious interest from all the usual suspects across Europe.

        I suspect that if changing channels takes too long on DAB, people will look for other solutions. However, I do notice when changing channels on my online radio app, the delays are irritating.

        1. DrXym Silver badge

          Re: DAB+

          The issue of channel switching is a multitude of things - the poor bitrate of audio codec and buffering (fixed by DAB+), the sparcity and power output of transmitters (a commercial decision), and how the groups of channels that are muxed to the same frequency (a commercial decision).

          None of these are a problem of the tech per se but the implementation. Some people seem to things are A-OK with crappy DAB and crappy FM. Both could be fixed with some direction.

      3. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: DAB+

        Spot on, only 1 room at top of our house gets a (just about) listenable DAB signal , FM is fine to listen to everywhere indoors as it degrades gracefully, unlike digital

    4. Kiwi
      Thumb Down

      Re: DAB+

      Every country should start dumping FM and free the space for DAB+ with a plan to sunset DAB a few years on from that.

      Cool. Er, what's the range of a DAB+ transmitter compared to normal FM? How well does the signal cope with hills etc? How well would it's infrastructure cope in something like a natural disaster? Say one where large areas lose power for hours at a time (like can happen in earthquakes) and you have another event to alert people to, like a tsunami warning?

      A couple of months ago, a few hours after some quakes big enough to be reported here on El Reg, I was woken by civil defence sirens. If we'd had DAB radio, not FM or AM, neither I nor many other people would've been able to get vital information. New receivers cost money, and a hell of a lot of people around the world simply cannot afford to replace their electronics just because some idiot thinks it would be a good idea.

      I've not looked at DAB at all, but suspect it might suffer from the same thing with mobile going to 2g then 3g then 4g.. The more "digital" it gets the more towers are needed, with each tower covering less and less area. The more towers, the more reliable power needed in an emergency to keep them running, only in an emergency you don't have reliable electricity. Me and 20,000 of my closest neighbours can tell you all about that.

      As to TV, I've been watching stuff in so-called "high definition" for a long time and seldom bother with broadcast TV. I felt it was a massive waste of resources to digitise NZ tv, and mourned the loss of a couple of smaller private transmitters nearby who offered a really crappy signal and low production values, but content that more than made up for it and was way above the hollywood shitefest we normally have to suffer. (Actually, there is something far far worse than what comes out of hollywood, and that's what comes out of TV NZ - including their main news which I think would make Faux and all the worst tabloids look like decent intelligent balanced reporting!)

  6. Spamfast
    Facepalm

    Ker-ching!

    Never mind the dubious claims that DAB is better quality - it can be but only if the broadcast authorities don't try to squeeze too many channels into the bandwidth - or that it's easier to deploy - which I also find hard to believe.

    I'm thinking about when I'm snowed-in in the middle of nowhere waiting for the snow ploughs to get through with a battery-powered radio. Which would I prefer - FM that'll last a week on one set of batteries ... or DAB that'll last a few hours?

    Idiot politicians no doubt being surreptitiously rewarded by the big business that is going to make a mint out of Joe Q. Public.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Ker-ching!

      I'm thinking about when I'm snowed-in in the middle of nowhere waiting for the snow ploughs to get through with a battery-powered radio. Which would I prefer - FM that'll last a week on one set of batteries ... or DAB that'll last a few hours?

      I don't know about you but in those circumstances I would want a VHF transceiver and a big stack of AA batteries.

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