The warnings are everywhere — sprawled across the bottom of your favorite television programs, coming from the mouths of news anchors and slipped into your utility bills: Television is going digital ... whether you’re ready or not.

For most couch potatoes, the transition from an analog to a digital signal will go unnoticed. But for an estimated 10 percent of the television viewing public — 9 million households nationwide and 62,000 locally — the switch could mean a blank TV set come Feb. 17.

But leading up to February’s big switch, local broadcasters are hoping to cut down on confusion by running tests from 6:28 to 6:30 p.m. Monday and again from 7:58 to 8 p.m. Jan. 15.

“That affected 10 percent, when they’re watching their screen during the test, they’re going to see one of two things,” said WIVB Channel 4 Marketing Director Dan Meyers. “You’ll see, ‘Congratulations, you are ready for the digital conversion.’ Otherwise, you’re going to see video that says ‘We’re sorry, but you’re not ready for the digital conversion. Here’s a number to call.”

Despite the constant warnings, which Meyers said broadcasters are federally mandated to air, there are still those television viewers who are taking a wait-and-see approach to the conversion.

Mary Jones in Niagara Falls says she has seen the messages crawling across her TV screen, but hasn’t paid much attention to them.

“I don’t really know anything about it,” she said of the conversion. “I’m just kind of assuming it’ll be fine. We’ll see what happens when it comes and if my TV doesn’t work, I’ll deal with it then.”

Patty Sigfrid, another Falls resident, said she wasn’t exactly sure who would be affected by the switch.

“I have a digital box with cable, so I think I’ll be fine,” she said. “But I don’t know what my mother’s going to do — she doesn’t really know about it so we’re going to have to talk to her. Are the cable companies telling people what they need to do? What if you have the DISH Network?”

Cable and satellite subscribers don’t have to do anything. Only the 10 percent of people who still rely on metallic “rabbit ears” on their TVs or rooftop antennae will be affected. When given that criteria, Sigfrid admitted she didn’t know anyone who would be affected.

That 10 percent has two options if they don’t want to subscribe to cable or satellite services — they can buy a converter box so their old-fashioned analog set can receive digital broadcast signals or they can buy a new digital TV altogether.

Digital converter boxes can range from $50 and up, but a government program is offering $40 discounts through March 31. Each U.S. household may request up to two $40 coupons to help pay for the cost of converter boxes, but supplies are limited and coupons expire 90 days after they are mailed. To apply for the coupons, call the 24-hour hotline at 1-888-DTV-2009 or go to

Mark Milanovich, president of George’s Appliance and Television on Pine Avenue, said he has seen a small surge in television sales since the conversion was announced — and it’s only been building as the February deadline draws closer. His store doesn’t sell converter boxes, which can be found at most big-box and electronic retailers, but many people are using the switch as an opportunity to upgrade.

“A lot of people don’t want to worry about hooking up a converter box so they’re just buying new TV sets,” he said. “Their antennas are old and there’s not a lot of people in the area doing (rooftop) antenna work anymore. You can get the converter box but if your antenna isn’t in the best condition, that doesn’t always make for the best picture either.”

For those in doubt, television sets made in the United States since 2006 are equipped with a digital tuner.

But the most common misconception Milanovich has heard is that digital television is the same as HD or high-definition television. While digital broadcasting will become standard and all it requires is a digital television, HD is a broadcasting system that offers an especially high picture quality, but only on more expensive HD television sets and only on channels or programs that broadcast in HD.

More information about the conversion is online at — or you can just wait for Monday’s test, which will be broadcast on most local affiliates, including channels 2, 4, and 7.

“The entire Buffalo-area market — all the local television stations and satellite providers — are working together so that all of our viewers are ready when we make the switch to digital Feb. 17,” Meyers said. “This is a very important thing — it’s going to change television as we know it.”

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