On Saturdays in Rosedale, a leafy neighborhood northeast of Capitol Hill, roll call begins at 9 a.m. “Five-oh-one, One-Eyed Jack, Cowboy, Cowgirl,” pierces a loud voice through the area’s TVs, telephones, radios, baby monitors, and computer speakers. The morning broadcast, running through a litany of CB-radio handles, continues for exactly an hour.
The voice, according to neighbors, emanates from the corner of 16th and Isherwood Streets NE. From there, they say, an operator (or operators) has been sending high-powered broadcasts out for years, damaging and disrupting electronic equipment throughout a several-block radius.
Patricia Taylor, who lives on the same block as the CB broadcast station, says she’s heard the broadcasts—or half of them; only the local end of any conversation is audible—for years. She went to confront a suspected CB’er at one point about a year ago; she says the man she spoke to denied ownership but assured her he’d tell his “cousin” to take it down. The broadcasts have continued unabated since, always on Saturday mornings and sporadically throughout the rest of the week.
Taylor says that the CB is not without entertainment value, though. “One time I was talking to a friend [on the phone], and you could hear [a CB] conversation clear as day, but just one side. He was talking about some man who had some woman and another woman, and, well, his end was pretty juicy,” she says.
Residents have different theories on the purpose of the broadcasts, but seemingly all have stories of permanently damaged equipment or at least a ruined ballgame or TV show. “One time,” says a neighborhood man who asked to remain nameless, “I got so mad I threw a rope around [the antenna] and ripped it down. He just put it right back up.”
In the summer of 2004, residents thought they finally had some peace and quiet. Keith Jones, a legal assistant whose back yard had a clear view of the CB antenna, started a petition that brought in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and District authorities. In August 2004, FCC agents served Tyron Conley, a resident of a two-story brick apartment building on the suspected corner, with an “administrative notice of violation” for operating with too much power. For a brief time, residents got a respite from the broadcasts.
But not for long. By that October, the roll call was back, along with the regular conversations—which, neighbors say, weren’t always family-friendly. “It was freaking my kids out,” Jones says. “They used very degrading language to black women.”
That was enough for Jones, who moved his family out of the neighborhood, to Anacostia; he cites the CB as the major reason for his desertion.
After the broadcasts reappeared, residents who remained behind were befuddled at first, unable to determine how the man was broadcasting without an antenna. Until, that is, one resident, who wishes to remain nameless, heard about it the same way he heard other details of the neighbor’s life: through his TV, on Channel 4. “I heard him telling someone that he’d had to take the antenna down but he had put it back up in a tree next to his house,” he says.
Sure enough, an antenna protrudes about 10 feet from a three-story-tall spruce a few feet from Conley’s apartment building. From the tree, a black cord can be seen running into a window of a second-floor apartment. A green Mercury Sable with a 6-foot CB antenna sits in the backyard driveway.
One weekend, three men are standing on the corner opposite the offending building. They, too, have had problems resulting from the antenna, but they are not keen on talking about it; like many residents in the neighborhood, they’ve requested anonymity.
One man says that the broadcasts broke his previous computer and that he can hear conversations coming through the speakers of his new one. His friend says he has also had problems with the signals in his TV. “I don’t understand,” he says. “This is the type of shit country people do, but not around here.”
A pair of neighborhood kids say they have confronted a tenant in the building about the antenna, asking him to stop disrupting their favorite TV shows. “Every time I tell him to cut it off, he says, ‘All right, then,’ then keeps on going,” one says.
They won’t be getting much help from the building’s owner, either. Art Panero, the landlord, says he has spoken to one tenant, Conley, in the past about an antenna but no longer deals with the issue. “Every time I tell him to take it down, he moves it a few feet off my property,” he says, insisting that it is now the District’s and the federal government’s problem. “I don’t even own that tree. The District does.” (According to a District Department of Transportation spokesperson, the tree is on private property.)
Besides, Panero says, the feds ought to be taking care of the problem. “I talked to some bureaucrat over there, but they didn’t do anything,” he says. “It’s not really a landlord/tenant issue. It’s a federal regulation.”
Repeated attempts to speak with Conley at home were unsuccessful; a woman and a boy at his apartment said on separate occasions that Conley no longer owns a CB or an antenna. Instead, Conley’s upstairs neighbor claims to be responsible for the recent broadcasts.
The man, who refuses to give his name, lives in the unit that receives the cord from the tree antenna, which he says is for his 11-meter-bandwidth radio. He confirms that Conley no longer owns a radio. When first interviewed, the man denied using the CB. “I haven’t used it in months,” he said, “so it couldn’t be me they’re complaining about.” During a second interview, though, the man said he has in fact been using it on weekends, as well as occasionally during the week, but that he keeps the power low enough that it won’t disrupt his neighbors’ electronic equipment.
Though he admits Conley’s antenna attracted the neighborhood’s and the FCC’s ire, the man says his setup is in compliance with the law. As proof, he says, he has a letter from the FCC certifying his compliance. He declined to produce the letter for a reporter’s inspection.
Since Jones left the neighborhood, the community has been less organized against the CB. However, the broadcasts have drastically increased in the last month, and Letitia Faison, who lives within a block of the antenna, says she is restarting the neighborhood’s fight and will soon contact the FCC for yet another inspection.
The antenna, though, won’t go down easily. Regarding the neighborhood’s complaints, the CB owner is adamant: “All the people in the neighborhood—fuck them. That’s what I say to them. Fuck them.” CP