Nelson County: Off the (weather) map
As hurricanes peppered multiple coasts a few weeks ago, Nelson County resident Sue Stillman wanted to know the paths of the approaching storms.
It's understandable that Nelson residents might be a little nervous, considering how Hurricane Camille devastated the county in 1969 and killed over 100 people, about one percent of the county's population at the time.
What's not understandable to Stillman is why Nelson isn't on any weather maps– at least not on the channels she can get on satellite TV.
A few weeks ago, Charlottesville area satellite TV viewers were exulting because Dish Network started offering local NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS stations. Stillman is a Dish Network customer, but her local NBC station is in... Roanoke.
"It's really, really bizarre," she says. "They're 90 miles from here. I don't eat, sleep, or shop there. And we're not on their weather map, while Channel 29 does put us on theirs."
Stillman wants to know: "Who made the decision that Nelson was in the viewing area of Roanoke, not Charlottesville?"
An act of Congress? Yes. Specifically, the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999– SHVIA– which allows satellite companies to offer local channels the way cable does.
The catch-22 for Stillman and other Nelsonians is that they have to live in the same market area as, say NBC29, to get Channel 29, and those markets are determined by Nielsen, the ratings people. Unfortunately, Nielsen has Nelson in Roanoke's market area– not Charlottesville's.
And Nielsen says it's not their fault Congress chose to use Nielsen research as the basis for the legislation.
"We scan the area in each county," says Sarah Jane Buenaventura in Nielsen Media Research. Based on the closest broadcast signals Nielsen picks up, "That's how we determine what market area it's in. You may be closer to one station, but we can't pick up its signal."
Buenaventura sympathizes with would-be viewers like Stillman, but says Nielsen isn't going to change the way it does its research to determine the 210 television markets in the country. (In the most recent Nielsen ranking of markets, Roanoke-Lynchburg is #67, with over 446,000 households, while Charlottesville jumps up a spot to #185, with nearly 70,000 households.)
Over at Dish Network, spokesperson Julie Popp says SHVIA is being debated in Congress, and she urges viewers to contact their congressperson and ask that satellite service be delivered the same way cable is.
Stillman has marginally better luck getting ABC and CBS from Lynchburg, 35 miles from her north-of-Lovingston home that's 29 miles south of Charlottesville.
But one problem remains: "Lynchburg doesn't put us on their weather map, either, and Charlottesville does," says Stillman. "I think the FCC should force the point and make news broadcasts put us on the map."
mentions Nelson weather– but Nelson satellite viewers can't get Channel 29.
PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER