Since 1973, every Washington Redskins game has been broadcast on network television into the Washington area. Additionally, viewers in the neighboring south Atlantic region have routinely received Redskins telecasts. But when the Redskins play in Miami next month against the Dolphins, those viewers outside of the immediate D.C. metropolitan area will be unable to see the game -- unless they have cable.

And since those areas are only partially wired for cable, many longtime Redskins fans face the prospect of no television for a Redskins game for the first time in 15 years. It's all part of a changing TV universe, except the technology is not in place everywhere for everyone to view the changes.

The situation is this: For the first time, the NFL is allowing some of its games to be broadcast on cable. ESPN, starting with Sunday night's New England-at-New York Giants game, will televise eight regular season games each of the next three years. To ensure the games would be available to fans in the cities of the participating teams and to defuse any public outcry, the NFL agreed to have those games simultaneously broadcast on over-the-air TV stations in the home markets of the teams involved.

In Washington, WUSA-TV-9 won the bidding for the Dec. 20 Redskins-Dolphins game, and D.C.-area viewers without cable can watch it on Channel 9.

But the Redskins' TV market goes well beyond Washington. Besides WUSA, there are 14 CBS affiliates that normally would receive regional Redskins telecasts (a Redskins-at-Miami game normally would be on CBS). But with the exception of Baltimore, which is within WUSA's signal power, all of those markets will be shut out from viewing the Redskins on over-the-air television Dec. 20.

The markets affected are: Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk in Virginia; Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, Wilmington and Greenville in North Carolina; Charleston, Columbia and Florence in South Carolina; Salisbury, Md., and Johnson City, Tenn.

"This is a red-hot Redskins area," said Michael Conly, station manager of WFMY-TV in Greensboro. "I would suspect we will get a couple of thousand calls when people realize that day the game's not going to be on . . . They'll probably be out here in their pickup trucks picketing."

"People right now don't know it's going to happen. They'll probably be upset when it comes, especially if it's a critical game," said Richard Pegram, general manager at WTVR-TV in Richmond. "I can remember the season the Redskins started 0-5 {in 1981}. CBS offered us a Rams-Atlanta game, which had much more importance, instead of the Redskins. We showed the Rams. We got 500 phone calls from folks who were pretty irate. I learned my lesson that day -- we're gonna run the Redskins no matter what."

The stations face a huge loss of viewership -- Redskins games in Redskins markets almost always attract much larger audiences than any other games -- and a potential loss of advertising revenue. And viewer backlash could be heightened by the fact that these areas are not fully wired for cable. In the Richmond-Petersburg-Charlottesville market, for example, cable penetration is 47 percent; in Roanoke, 52 percent; in Raleigh, 46 percent.

"There are always games which some people would like to have carried in their area {that are not}," said Val Pinchbeck, the NFL's director of broadcasting. "Sure, we'll be happier as cable goes forward and there's more and more hookups."

But this is a bit different -- as ESPN makes its way through an attractive slate of games, folks in each team's extended region will be unable to watch their home team without cable. ESPN is in 44 million homes, about half of the nation's TV households.

Perhaps a barometer of public disenchantment will come with Sunday night's Patriots-Giants game, which normally would be on NBC. WABC-TV in New York and WCVB-TV in Boston will telecast the game along with ESPN. NBC's regional Patriots network comprises eight markets outside of Boston, including such areas as Hartford, Conn., (72 percent cable penetration) and Providence, R.I., (57 percent).

"It's a big game for us to lose, especially because it's against the Giants. There's not many like that during the year," said Al Boza, station manager at WDIV-TV in Hartford. "If we had that game, we would sell {advertising} spots at a premium."

"Losing just one game might not hurt us too much," said Lou Colby, station manager at NBC affiliate WCSH-TV in Portland, Maine, "but the real danger is going to be the perception of the audience when they realize it's not going to be on over the air. You're eliminating 50 percent of the homes that might've gotten the game."

Last month, Congress showed an interest in the NFL's move away from free television, and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and ESPN President Bill Grimes testified at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the topic. Congressional interest could be stirred again if, in the coming weeks, constituents in places like Hanover, N.H., and Greenville, N.C., complain loud and long enough about their Patriots and their Redskins being taken away from TV for the first time.