I'll admit to having had some misgivings about neighborhood reaction when my satellite dish was installed in 1979 so that I could watch the shows of the Cable News Network in this cable-less city. A privately owned receiver was a rarity in those days -- in fact, mine may have been the first in the District.
A survey of my property indicated only one point that would clear trees and houses, and that was at the side of my house, on the front lawn. The white dish, 10 feet in diameter, would be plainly and dramatically visible to neighbors and the passing throng.
The neighbors didn't object. My block of Woodley Road, as it happens, is something of a media colony. Across the street live Elizabeth Drew, of The New Yorker, and her husband, David Webster of the BBC. Denizens in former times were James N. Reston of The New York Times, John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw of NBC, and now Charlie Rose of CBS. Within a radius of a few blocks are Donald Graham of The Washington Post, Seymour Hirsh, Judith and Milton Viorst and David Wise.
Journalists found my dish a community asset -- a window on the satellite world of live events and, less frequently, movies. We talked sporadically of giving a "feed" to the neighbors -- stringing lines to relay the programs -- and thus turning me into a small-scale cable operator. But, like so much on Woodley Road where much is discussed and little happens, nothing has come of that idea.
The dramatic reaction has come from the passing throng, which finds the dish exciting and mysterious. Many visitors on their way to the zoo stop in their tracks at the sight of the large white-painted disc. They stare and, from my house, they can be heard wondering at the apparition. More often than not they surmise that it is a transmitter -- of television pictures, of coded diplomatic messages. Even now, with satellite receivers no longer a rarity, it is not often that one hears a family member authoritatively explaining to the others that this must be one of those gadgets enabling one to see all the cable programs by plucking them out of the sky without paying for them.
As time goes by, fewer people look startled as they come upon the dish while jogging or walking the dog. If the dish hasn't exactly blended into the scenery, it has become an accepted part of Woodley Road. Indeed, it has conferred an unexpected cachet. Far from the neighborhood, people come up to ask me, "Aren't you the one with the dish?"
In six years, we have not heard a single complaint. On the contrary, as cable in the District keeps receding into the future, more and more I get the question, "Hey, where can I get one of those things?"