California Towns' Early Digital Shift May Leave Some TVs Dark

Published December 22, 2008

| Wall Street Journal

Hundreds of Northern California residents could wake up Monday to discover that their televisions no longer work as well.

Three of four network stations in Chico and Redding, Calif., will begin broadcasting only in digital Monday, two months before the rest of the country.

The worry is that some of the 20,000 residents who rely on over-the-air TV still aren't ready, despite local broadcasters' airing of thousands of ads and screen crawls to alert viewers.

"We're in the hundreds when it comes to people who don't have a converter box and aren't prepared," said John Stall, general manager of the local CBS and NBC affiliate stations, which, along with the Fox affiliate, are going digital Monday.

The transition in Northern California could be a harbinger of what happens on Feb. 17, when the whole country is required by Congress to switch to digital-only TV. (The ABC affiliate station for Chico and Redding also plans to go digital on Feb. 17.)

Broadcasters and cable operators across the country are in the midst of a campaign to raise viewers' awareness about the coming transition. But problems have arisen with a government coupon program that helps consumers buy digital-converter boxes needed to keep old TVs operational, suggesting that some viewers may not be prepared for the switch.

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