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Chiefs go high tech on TV, but KC viewers left behind

September 4, 2003

Great news, high-definition TV owners: CBS has selected Sunday's Chiefs-Chargers match-up to be its first HDTV “game of the week” of the football season.

Just one catch — local CBS affiliate KCTV won't be offering the game in high definition.

That's right. Because the station is still waiting on the equipment needed to broadcast HDTV, viewers who tune in KCTV's digital signal (known as KCTV-DT) expecting to see the crystal-clear picture high definition is renowned for will instead get the same boxy, blurry picture everybody else does.

A handful of area sports bars and electronics stores are planning to show the game to their customers in high definition via satellite TV.

The Chiefs game is the latest setback in Kansas City's two-steps-forward-one-step-back journey into the digital TV age. Fewer than 10,000 area households are estimated to be wired for HDTV. However, industry estimates show several times that number have “HD-ready” TV sets but haven't connected them to a high-definition cable or satellite receiver.

KCTV general manager Kirk Black said last week that he ordered the high-definition gear for the station but has yet to receive it from the manufacturer. He hoped to add HDTV capability in the next 30 to 60 days.

That means viewers such as Bob Baskerville, who dumped his satellite dish for Comcast Cable, which carries KCTV-DT, will be singing the low-definition blues a little while longer.

“I can't believe KCTV won't have the capability to broadcast it,” Baskerville said.

Only DirecTV will have the

Chiefs-Chargers game in high definition. The leading satellite provider is offering CBS' HDTV games this season to customers who have purchased an HDTV dish and its NFL Sunday Ticket package.

That came as a welcome surprise to Mike Darby, co-owner of Coach's Bar and Grill. The sports bar, at 103rd Street and Wornall Road, has two wall-size HDTV displays, and Darby has gone to great lengths to pull in high-definition sportscasts, from this year's Super Bowl to Wizards games.

He described his office as a “hodgepodge” of TV receivers, including cable and satellite boxes from various providers. During March Madness last spring, Darby got so fed up with KCTV's lack of HDTV that he even mounted an antenna on the roof of Coach's in an unsuccessful attempt to pull in WIBW-DT, the Topeka station. (Some viewers in the westernmost suburbs of Kansas City have had better luck receiving WIBW-DT, though they spent $500 or more to install antennas on their homes.)

“Hey, wow!” said Darby after learning that DirecTV would be broadcasting the Chiefs-Chargers game in high definition. “That's great news.”

Other places that will be showing the game in HDTV include Hooters in Overland Park; Roscoe's TV in Waldo; and all area BrandsMart stores.

DirecTV is usually prohibited from competing with local TV in telecasting football games, but that will not apply to the high-definition offering, a DirecTV spokesman said this week. Only if Arrowhead Stadium fails to sell out — a remote possibility — will the game be blacked out, both on HDTV and KCTV.

Other Chiefs games this season will be offered in high definition. ABC's “Monday Night Football” will broadcast the Oct. 20 conference match-up at Oakland in HDTV on local affiliate KMBC-DT. Viewers with HDTV sets can try tuning in KMBC over the air or use a high-definition box from Time Warner Cable or Comcast Cable. On Oct. 26 the ESPN HD channel, an offshoot of ESPN, will broadcast the game against Buffalo at Arrowhead Stadium. Only Comcast and satellite services offer ESPN HD; Time Warner Cable is in negotiations to carry that channel.

Meanwhile, the CBS affiliates in Topeka and Columbia have equipped their digital signals with high definition and will broadcast Sunday's game in razor-sharp HDTV and CD-quality sound. Rabbit ears, anyone?