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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Digital dawn breaking at own pace

Greig Watson
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Whitehaven harbour
The area has patchy analogue coverage due to surrounding hills
It does not look like a place where the clock is ticking.

But Whitehaven, on the blustery Cumbrian coast, is leading England's switchover to digital television.

And with 12 months to go, the countdown has begun in earnest, especially for those tasked with making sure the population is prepared.

But like their fuzzy analogue reception, the townsfolk only have a hazy idea of what is round the corner.

Set-top 'thingies'

Digital UK is the body charged with making sure the UK is prepared for the old television signal being shut off.

John Askew is its sole representative in the Whitehaven area, covering roughly 20,000 households.

Digital facts
A woman taking notes
You can get the digital signal through a conventional aerial
The screens will not go blank - one analogue channel will be shut off first
You will need a separate digi-box for every conventional television
Radio will not be affected, though you will be able to get digital radio through your television
The last areas to be switched over are Tyne Tees, London and Meridian in 2012
"Most people are aware something is happening and will be able to tell you where and when.

"A lot will have a fairly good idea of what they have to do in terms of the basics - people will say 'I have to get one of those set top box thingies'.

"But what we still need to do to is make people aware it is quite a straightforward thing to get done if you get the right advice."

He added: "There is a logistical worry that if everyone leaves it to the last minute then the resources available to fit boxes, and work on aerials if needed, is going to be stretched."

'Difficult period'

David Coyles, director of local electrical store Brooks, is also concerned: "Some people seem to think if they have satellite or a digi-box, they don't need to worry .

"But most households have more than one television and each one on an aerial needs its own box.

"If that demand comes in steadily we can cope, but at the present rate we are looking at a difficult period closer to the deadline".

Local views

Shoppers said they were aware of the changes but confessed confusion over what it will mean for them.

Jane Campbell and son
If I woke up and there was no television I wouldn't have any idea what to do
Jane Campbell, resident
Josephine Hazeldon, 64, said: "I know its happening next year and I know what I want to do, just have the box and the one payment.

"But I don't really know what I need to do, especially when it comes the aerial. I am leaving it up to my daughter.

"I haven't really taken much notice up until now, its been put it to the back of my mind."

Another resident Bill Gribben, 59, said: "We have three televisions, none of them digital. I know it's on its way but I suppose I am waiting for something concrete to happen.

"I know it's going to cost something so we'll have to pay for it but that is progress, no point in fighting it."

Jane Campbell, 27, said: "We are just moving and I haven't looked into it really, I just expect when we get the new television and Sky system in we will be ok.

"If I woke up and there was no television I wouldn't have any idea what to do. "

No return

Local businessman Peter Fox had concerns beside public awareness.

"In a way it is nice to be first," he said. "But as digital is rolled out across the country there will be more and more reasonably priced digital televisions.

"Because we are the first, no one is going to jump in because the market isn't big. If it was in a city, there would be far greater choice."

Digital UK's John Askew said: "As our efforts build, I think Digital UK and the organisations we work with we get the message across.

"This is not an experiment, this is the start of a process. There is no going back."

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