Federal regulators shepherding the U.S. digital television transition visited Los Angeles on Monday and asked for divine assistance.
Broadcasters turn off their analog signals in just over four months, and Federal Communications Commission staffers can't make sure that people buy and set up the converter boxes they'll need for their older TV sets that are hooked up to antennas.
Who can? Ministers.
"We need people to take up leadership in their community and make sure nobody gets left out in the switch," FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein said during a public forum at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in South Los Angeles. "Churches already have the infrastructure in place to do that."
Standing at the church pulpit, Adelstein asked the Baptist Ministries Conference of Los Angeles, nearly 50 African American preachers who meet once a month, to include information on the June 12 digital TV switch in their sermons.
L.A. County has the largest number of over-the-air viewers in the country, Adelstein said, and those viewers are concentrated in the minority and elderly communities.
"It's sort of an ad-hoc approach to handling this situation, but the next four months will fly by and we need to be ready," he said.
Adelstein and five local FCC field officers handed out applications for $40 coupons for digital-to-analog converter boxes.
They also dispensed a few pieces of advice: There isn't much difference between a $40 converter box and a $70 model; and cable and satellite TV customers don't need one at all.
Adelstein and the field officers spent their morning at a senior center in West Covina, where they explained the upcoming switch and showed how to connect a converter box to a TV. After the midday stop at the church, the group headed to Cal State L.A. to reach out to the Latino community.
The transition, originally scheduled for Feb. 17, was delayed last week by Congress until June 12.
FCC field officers are planning more meetings in schools, churches and neighborhood centers before the switch, Adelstein said. The Monday meeting at Mount Moriah was organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Woodie Ramsey, a deacon at Southern Missionary Baptist Church of South East Los Angeles, said the ministers were prepared to spread the word.
"It's incumbent upon each church to take care of the needs of its ministry, and this is just one more need for our people," he said. "We'll do our part."