The Dish on TV in Nelson

Snapshot of Roanoke Lynchburg DMA
Snapshot of Roanoke Lynchburg DMA

DMA Images courtesy of Back Channel Media.

Recently one of our readers, Alice Tor in Afton, sent the following question to NCL:

Alice Tor wrote:
Like many Nelson county residents, I use satellite for TV reception. As I
understand it from a Nielsen Research employee, all Nelson county dish users
must use Roanoke and Lynchburg local stations for the traditional networks.
Back before cable and satellite, these were the only signals available here;
therefore dish users are stuck by law in the Roanoke/Lynchburg designated
market area (DMA) for our local TV. I was wondering how many other people are
dissatisfied with this and would prefer to be included in the Charlottesville
DMA instead. I am also curious as to how one would go about changing. The
last straw was yesterday evening when the Roanoke CBS station decided not to
broadcast the postponed from Sunday US Open mens’ final (It was shunted to a
sister station, not available to dish users). The Charlottesville CBS
affiliate aired the match, according to its website. Anyway, I thought I
would contact you to see if you had an idea of any community feeling on the
subject. I enjoy your publication and website.

The Roanoke / Lynchburg TV DMA
The Roanoke / Lynchburg TV DMA
Charlottesville TV DMA
Charlottesville TV DMA

Alice has hit the nail precisely on the head. Here’s part of our reply to her:

Hi Alice,
You have hit the nail on the head for me! Having come from the television news business, both as a reporter, weatherman, and eventually manager / owner of a television station, before our move to Nelson, I have extensive knowledge of this. Having Nelson in the Roanoke Lynchburg DMA makes no sense and is a total disservice to the viewers here. I notice the Roanoke stations never program for this area, even during severe weather they glaze right over what’s happening here, but we get to hear all about Galax, and beyond! We are in a unique situation as we are the last county north in their DMA (the stepchild) and border the Charlottesville DMA. All of our friends on the county line along 151 have Charlottesville on their dish receivers because their technical address is in Albemarle.

In their defense I understand why the Roanoke stations don’t care about programming to us they really gain nothing from it, other than their sales force being able to tell customers they go all the way into Nelson. Otherwise we might as well be in the jungle somewhere.

One bit of good news is a thing called “collapsing the DMA.” I have seen it happen in other markets and Nelson is a prime place for it to happen as the Charlottesville stations gain more ground in their own DMA. With 3 additional new stations in CHO now, odds are very good Nelson will fold into that market within the next 2-4 years, it’s an almost certainty. That is if Roanoke doesn’t object and try to stop it, even though they don’t take care of Nelson now. It’s all about money, nothing more nothing less. Public interest took a back seat years ago, unfortunately.

So until “the collapse” of the DMA happens, continue enjoying television newscasts that essentially have no relevance to Nelson.

What are some of your stories on this, drop us a comment, have you had a similar experience?


  1. I find it interesting as I drive south on 29, you reach a point where peoples antennas point towards Roanoke whereas the further north you go they point towards Charlottesville or Richmond.

    My house is sitting at 1400 feet and I have never received any station from Roanoke or Lynchburg, but regularly receive Hampton Roads TV stations!

  2. My question is, folks with Cable TV in the county (Wintergreen/Stoney Creek Area especially) have Charlottesville stations. As childish as this sounds, it simply isn’t fair that they can have access to Charlottesville Stations and those of us with a Dish are only allowed to watch Lynchburg/Roanoke Channels.

  3. I agree! It’s insane that our “local” news and weather comes from Roanoke/Lynchburg. I turn on the radio in the morning while getting ready for school/work so I can hear what the weather is going to be and what the local news is. Most of the people living in Nelson travel to Charlottesville or Waynesboro to work. If we got local news we would know about potential traffic delays, weather, etc. My sister lives 15 minutes from me and also has Dish Network, but because she’s in Albemarle County, her local news comes out of Charlottesville.

  4. I would like to know what entity has the power to move Nelson into the Charlottesville DMA for dish users and if there is a way to petition for the change. After talking to my satellite provider, to Nielsen Research, and to someone at the FCC, I can’t get a straight answer on this. Does anybody have any idea how to get something going?

  5. I would jump through hoops to get Charlottesville stations instead of Lynchburg/Roanoke. I live in Afton along Rt. 151 (3 miles from the Albemarle boarder). One time several years ago an escaped convict was spotted on the parkway heading toward Afton, and my daughter was home alone that day totally unaware of what was happening in our “backyard” because they didn’t broadcast this information on Lynchburg/Roanoke networks, however, I did find out the next day that it was all over the Charlottesville news. My daughter didn’t even know her life could have been in danger. As to what can be done about changing this, I was told once that a letter to our Congressman from as many people as could is what should be done. However, no guarantees. I work, shop and play in Charlottesville – I’ve never even been to Roanoke and have no intention to go.

  6. A perfect example Cindi. We remember that incident well, and covered it here:

    One thing that would help is to notify the Charlottesville stations and let them know this. I am forwarding the link from this post to them as well. The more they hear this and the more they come out here and cover news, the more likely they can move this area into the Charlottesville DMA vs Roanoke. Much of this is controlled by the way television signals are distributed here. If we were able to pickup the Charlottesville stations via antenna, it would be a non issue. But, because of the mountainous terrain, that’s impossible. And for those who currently do get an acceptable signal on the analog side, regular channels: 29, 16, 19, etc you will lose that in February once the digital conversion mandated by the feds goes into effect. Another reason we need to be moved into that area.

  7. The Charlottesville television stations are well-aware of the situation in Nelson County.

    Nelson County is listed as part of the Roanoke-Lynchburg Designated Market Area (DMA) because according to the television ratings company, Nielsen, Nelson Co households watch Roanoke-Lynchburg stations 29% of the time, and Charlottesville stations only 11% of the time (2008 County Summary for Virginia).

    Nielsen is the sole arbiter of market assignment, and their definitions and analyses are used by the FCC for determining which stations may be carried by cable systems, DirecTV, and DISH.

    The statement that those homes using antennas will lose coverage when the analog stations cease broadcasting, Feb 17, 2009, is not necessarily correct. Many digital stations have “maximized” their power and therefore, will provide a stronger signal from their digital transmitter. In the case of WVIR-TV the digital “footprint” reaches about 10 miles farther than the analog footprint.

    If you are presently receiving a viewable analog signal from WVIR-TV, then it is likely that you will receive the station’s digital signal. And the good news is, if you receive the digital picture it will be perfect…no snow, and no ghosting.

    Good Luck!

    Harold Wright
    VP & GM

  8. “Nelson County is listed as part of the Roanoke-Lynchburg Designated Market Area (DMA) because according to the television ratings company, Nielsen, Nelson Co households watch Roanoke-Lynchburg stations 29% of the time, and Charlottesville stations only 11% of the time (2008 County Summary for Virginia).” (from Mr. Wright above)

    This makes no sense as it implies that viewers have a choice. As we have discussed, dish users have no choice, some cable subscribers get Charlottesville, and antenna users get what they can out of the air.

    “Nielsen is the sole arbiter of market assignment, and their definitions and analyses are used by the FCC for determining which stations may be carried by cable systems, DirecTV, and DISH.” (Mr. Wright again)

    Do you, Harold Wright, know who to contact at Nielsen to start a move to put Nelson in the Ch’ville DMA? And how does Wintergreen cable get to choose Ch’ville DMA instead of Roanoke?

  9. We lived in Charlottesville for awhile and loved getting the locatl news. We are in Nelson now and were very upset that we lost the Charlottesvilles local news.

    We have Roanoke/Lynchburg now but never watch it. We actually watch FOX news most of the time but certainly would be happy getting Charlottesville back. I hope someone can do something about it. Milly Colella from Nellysford

  10. I agree 110%!

    Unless it is state or national, the news, sports and weather in Lynchburg and Roanoke have virtually nothing to do with us!!

    It is further important that we be able to get the “more local” Charlottesville stations since a lot of us don’t have reliable or hi-speed internet (yet) and are therefore at a loss – e.g., for C’ville closings when the weather is bad. It IS a disservice and a downright danger for us not to have this access, as others here have indicated!

    I was very surprised and disappointed when I moved to Nelson and discovered that the local stations are from Lynchburg and Roanoke, especially since – as a Dish subscriber – I have to pay for them!

    DishNet told me that there was nothing that I or they could do about this!

    If we got into the habit of taking that for an answer in life, where would we be?!

    And if we all did have a choice – as Alice says – I bet the viewership would be overwhelmingly for Charlottesville.

    Does anyone know if Nielsen and/or the FCC would accept a petition to prove that?

    If that would convince them to change our DMA, I’d say we’d have a pretty good chance given the response here!

  11. This is the email address for the FCC to send complaints – I’m sending one today. I’d rather have Charlottesville stations too and it upsets me that we’re not given a choice.

  12. I too think it would be great to be able to get the Charlottesville stations via satellite. I currently have Nelson County Cable and get all of the local news stations from Charlottesville through the cable service. I wonder if since Nelson Co Cable offers the Charlottesville stations on cable, and they also offer a satellite service – which of course gives the customer Lynchburg/Roanoke – they have any say regarding the DMA we’ve been forced into. It seems like it would be in their best interest to remain in the Lynchburg/Roanoke DMA since they are the only available option in Nelson County to customers who want to get their news from Charlottesville – and it sounds like there are many of us. I know that if I had a choice I would no longer be a cable customer but would have satellite if I could get the same local TV through a satellite service – and not necessarily the Nelson County one.

  13. We appreciate Mr. Wright dropping us a note. That alone shows interest and is much appreciated!

    Nelson is in a unique situation and probably with some “congressional and fcc” elbow this can be accomplished. First, the Roanoke markets do not satisfy the “public interest” for the Nelson area. But as Mr. Wright correctly stated, it’s a Nielsen driven factor. Because there is such a limited avenue for watching other markets (Charlottesville) the numbers always trend to Roanoke. “When it’s the only brand of beans on the shelf in the market”, you have little choice in selection , so the guys watching say, ” Mmmm, aren’t those beans popular.”

    We respectively disagree with Mr. Wright on the “good news about digital transmission.” Having an extensive background in both operation and engineering side of television it’s pretty well known that digital signals, while much clearer and brilliant than the old analog signals that are about to go away, are much less forgiving. In digital, generally you have the signal or you don’t, and fringe areas like Nelson won’t do well. Remember you old analog cell phone? You could often cheat the signal and get reception, on digital, again you generally have it or not. We have already done testing with an expensive directional bay UHF antenna and pre / post amplification, we get an acceptable analog signal on the current 29 channel, but nothing on the alternate digital signals being transmitted. Not the fault of NBC-29, just a nature of the beast. Some people in high terrains with a good line of sight to the NBC-29 and other transmitters in CHO will fair well, but the majority won’t.

    The only solution is to eventually get into the Charlottesville DMA. We suggest anyone interested in this matter write the FCC and their congressional representatives.

    More to follow as this is apparently a hot topic!


  14. I have been frustrated by this situation since I signed up with Dish Network. The following is a reply that I received from the Charlottesville NBC 29 station when I asked if anything could be done about this problem.

    Thanks for taking the time to write. Yes, we’re frustrated by the situation as well. We would love nothing more than for Dish and DirecTV to add NBC29 to their lineups in Nelson, Augusta and Rockingham counties, but so far they have declined to do so. They are under no obligation to because of the way FCC regulations are written, but that doesn’t mean consumer pressure can’t come to bear. I encourage you to let your voice be heard. “The customer” is able to achieve much when not silent. If they tell you that we won’t let them carry our signal, tell them that you know that to be untrue. Thank you so much for your support of NBC29 and for taking the time to make your feelings known!

    Ralph Tobias

    Manager – Programming, Promotions & Marketing

    WVIR-TV NBC29/CW29

  15. It seems arbitrary that the county lines are used to deliniate TV viewing areas rather than a 40 mile circle from the antenna or something similar. Tommy, could you explain that to us?

    I only use an antenna, but it seems very strange that if I signed up for Dish I would get “local” stations 75 miles away rather than 20 miles away.

    Tommy is right about digital signals, if you are behind a mountain or in a valley, a marginal (but watchable) analog signal turns into nothing with digital TV.

    It is worth a try with one of the new converter boxes to see if you get any digital signals at your location.

    Try to see what signals are available in your area.

    For NBC 29, wouldn’t a digital repeater solve the problem for the poor reception in our area?

  16. Good point Brian and you reminded me that should have been included in my most recent post. Years ago television stations, in fact, installed translator or repeater stations into areas they wanted to get penetration into. Nelson is a prime candidate for that, but again the mountains play into it in a big way. And, since the populated areas, Nellysford, Wintergreen Mountain, Lovingston, are served by cable, that do get CHO channels, I doubt there is much incentive on the Charlottesville station’s part to go to the expense. But, it is a relatively inexpensive cure, a few thousand dollars for a low output translator station vs 10’s or 100’s of thousands of dollars for a full power transmitter.

    However, it has become more difficult to license those kinds of transmitters in some areas since much of the previously available frequency spectrum has now gone away with the digital conversions in not only television channels, but public safety, cell phone, etc. bands.

    Again, you are right on the money with the arbitrary lines for viewing areas. Pragmatically speaking there is no reason for Nelson to be served by Roanoke, especially when they overwhelmingly ignore the programming needs and public interest of Nelson.


  17. Mr. Tobias implies (within Ann’s comment above) that the satellite companies could offer us Charlottesville stations if they so chose. Is this true? If it is true, that changes the battle lines. All this demonstrates the difficulty in determining how to proceed.

  18. My understanding Alice, is – it is determined by the DMA areas and not the sat DSS providers themselves. I don’t think they care what areas they program to as they are simply a “pass thru” middleman so to speak. Yes, technically they can do it with a simple programming change to their subscribers, but as I understand it, that is determined by the Nielsen areas / FCC guidelines.

    Again, that is all heavily lobbied at the national level by an organization called NAB, The National Association of Broadcasters, then trickles down to the affiliate markets. Again, it’s determined these days by advertising dollar potential, not the public interest. Though it’s presented as public interest. Roanoke could care less, but their sales staff, I assure you, uses this as a sales tool telling potential advertisers, “Our news is seen all the way up in Nelson County, Virginia…….”


  19. I am curious how these tests were conducted. If we in Nelson County are unable to receive Charlottesville stations on either of the satellite dishes which most people use and we are unable to receive your signal because of geographic barriers like mountains, exactly what was the methodology of the test. The same test using the current standards would also show we do not prefer Chicago stations. What makes sense, I live 24 miles from Charlottesville, 125 miles from Roanoke and 65 miles from Lynchburg. Where am I going to spend my dollars.
    Mr. Wright, you are in fract doing your advertisers a disservice by not fighting for an expanded coverage area for their services.

  20. I just got off the phone w/ Nielsen

    This is all about their “significantly viewed” stations of which C’ville has only one – which is Channel 29. Roanoke – on the other hand – has 6 or 7.

    How are these “significantly viewed” stations determined, I asked?

    By “diaries”, which is what Nielsen calls the surveys that they send out to households.

    And when asked what local stations they watch, people say Roanoke/Lynchburg because that is all that they can get on satellite, which is what most of us have. The Nielsen guy with whom I spoke seemed surprised though that Nelson cable customers get C’Ville stations but that is a different ballpark somehow.

    Even if one got a survey and lied they would know because of their previous statistics. How all this got started in the first place I have no idea but it is a real racket they have going here!

    So this is what I gleaned about their methodology from my conversation, if that somehow answers your question, Phil

    It’s a Catch 22 – they admitted it and said that they were sympathetic but that doesn’t help us.

    Apparently we are not alone though. According the guy I talked to there are other counties is similiar situations.

    But the bottom line is that we are being deprived of important local information – to which we could easily be given access – because of “politics” and money.

    The FCC on the other hand states on its website:

    “Neither the FCC nor the satellite company plays any part in determining which counties are included in particular DMAs. ” (reference:

    And Nielsen referred me to the Satellite Home Viewer Act:

    I haven’t read it yet and am not sure that I want to.

    Nielsen is saying that they provide the data according to gov’t guidelines.

    The gov’t is saying neither they nor satellite companies make the DMA determinations but Nielsen marketing data does.

    So what to do – lobby the FCC like Tommy and others have said. And you are right too, that this is done to protect and give a market to local stations – at our expense! Charlottesville advertisers should be ticked about this! They are losing big time too!!

    For now we need to inundate the FCC with calls and emails and show them that if we were in fact given a choice that we do not choose Roanoke/Lynchburg but C’ville stations and that their policy and Nilesen data is seriously flawed!

    Ultimately though it could take a lawsuit somewhere at some point by a daring, frustrated consumer who also happens to be a communications attorney in order to change this policy.

    Fellow Frustrated Nelson Viewer

  21. We had the chioce of both cable or sat, but because of this very reason picked cable.

    I think mass e-mails are in order for the district congress representative to step in and put pressure on FCC.

  22. To get c-ville on sat. call & say you have moved , use friends address & have direct debit for bill
    you must list cell phone #, not house phone & have local antenna from sat. co. sent to friends address. that cost $50 or so & tell them you will install. cheating yes,but it’s not your wife!steve

  23. What a rip-off! Can our Supervisors get into the fray? I think most of them are in the same boat we are. Maybe we can help organize a grassroots campaign to contact the FCC and Congress to make the necessary changes. To continue to keep us in the Roanoke DMA is idiocy. Our life revolves around C’Ville and never around Roanoke/Lynchburg.

  24. Well this is an election/re-election year for some of our representatives so below are two URLs with their contact information – federal, state, local – just to make things a little easier on everyone.

    I know I don’t need one more email to write but I will (BTW, you have to go to the reps website in order to email them but the links are included on the pages)

    Since the FCC is a Federal agency, I am thinking that those w/ ties in DC will carry the most clout but the Sups are on here too and easier to get in touch with:

    from Common Cause – FIND YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS (and hold them accountable!)

    Nelson County Board of Supervisors:

    I am going to emphasize that this is not just an inconvenience or disadvantage but a downright danger for us to be denied access to vital local information because of some stupid policy, esp. given our inadequate broadband access in rural Nelson.

    Like Cindi said about her daughter being alone w/ a criminal on the loose, I know that I wouldn’t even have known about the bank robbery on Tuesday if I hadnt been online at work w/ access to Nelson County Life!


  25. Not much to add, other than this is a huge issue. I’ve tried on my own in the past to sort through this issue to no avail. I’m in an area that cable isn’t an option either, so I’m on DirecTV.

    I’ll definitely join the league of petition signers, SEC and elected official emailers, and advocates for the safety issues. This is MUCH more than a convenience issue.

  26. […] As we first told you here, folks living in Nelson County, Virginia have become quite enraged about not being able to receive Charlottesville local broadcast channels if you are not on cable. Those people who aren’t in a good enough location to receive the signal by regular television antenna (very few can) must use either DirecTV or Dish Network to get television reception. And if you live in Nelson, you see Roanoke / Lynchburg stations vs more relevant Charlottesville stations. […]

  27. Maybe Nelson County Life could start their own TV station with local news, and we could just forget about all the other guys?

  28. yeh I thought about that too!

    A local cable station with Nelson News!!

    It would be a big venture but a lot of rural areas have them and my understanding is that they will still be allowed to operate on analog after the Feb09 digital switch.

    I bought a converter box w/ analog bypass for just that reason – just in case!

  29. I’ve been reading parts of and discussions about the satellite TV home viewer regs enacted by Congress; these rules appear so complicated, fraught with so many interests trying to protect themselves, that I think it would be easier to get Nielsen to move us into the Charlottesville DMA than to get these laws changed. Now how to go about this is another story. I did notice that Charlottesville 29 is included on a list compiled by Nielsen of “significantly viewed stations” in Nelson; maybe that’s a start.

  30. Thanks for all the comments/advice from the readers of NCL!
    I just e-mailed a letter of concern to my West District Board of Supervisors:

    Nelson County Board of Supervisors (West District)
    Attn: Thomas H. Bruguiere, Jr.

    My husband and I own a residence in Nelson County in your district.
    Do to the upcoming digital conversion in Feb. 09, we recently had DirecTV installed
    and were advised that the only local channels available are from Lynchburg/Roanoke area, not Charlottesville. I quickly discovered Lynchburg/Roanoke TV stations
    DO NOT provide the citizens of Nelson County with news, weather, much less,
    emergency information. Needless to say, I was surprised and I called and
    questioned DirecTV, but was advised they have no control over a governmental issue.

    Just reading the Board of Supervisor’s own mission statement, “to maintain Nelson
    County…where public services are effective, efficient, adequate and responsive to
    the needs of its citizens” and “where the community is well planned…”, I am sure
    this issue could be addressed by our Supervisory Board since many residents
    have not been provided with the availability of effective, efficient, adequate and
    responsive local TV broadcasting service in our area. I am hoping you can be our
    voice for this concern for a reasonable request, not to mention, an important one.

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