I can see it now; the cardboard box that once held teletype paper for the Associated Press teletype machine was full of Christmas songs sits on the floor of the control room right in front of the cart machines. We were reaching into it and snagging a few final 45’s to play before it all went away on New Year’s Eve. We had just played 36 hours of straight Christmas Music but only 36 hours. The rest of the time it was a mix of the Top 40 and Christmas music. No one does this today with the hype of the season that produced not one but two of our local stations going wall to wall Christmas songs at Thanksgiving and for the most part no one else even playing Christmas music at all.
Call me an old fogey but I do prefer the way we did it back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when we started ramping up the holiday music after Thanksgiving to the crescendo from noon on Christmas Eve until 6 PM on Christmas day. Then the gradual ramp down as the New Year looms. True, I did listen to some of the Christmas Music on the local FMs from time to time but it seems that there was more repetition than I would have liked. Back in the day, there were enough records in that cardboard box that I could get through the six weeks without playing the same song more than once.
What a collections of records that was; Bing Crosby, The Shirelles, The Drifters, Elvis and much more. That box contained offerings from the 40s through the current year at that time. I usually started my season off with Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Why those two? I chose Autry because he was one of my favorite Saturday Morning TV Western heroes and Love because she really rocked the holiday season. There you go, the ‘40s and the ‘60s on the same playlist. You know what, those two songs still made it to my holiday playlist this year.
There were some really neat “specialty songs” in that cardboard box too. Remember Billy Boyd’s “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” covered by Spike Jones and later rocked by the Jackson Five. Or Spike Jones’ “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” I loved the fun, feel – good vibe they brought to the season. Adding to that vibe was the way the playlist expanded from Top 40 Rock and Roll to include big band, jazz and vocal standards. Despite the fact that the Top 40 had a wider mix of music than you see these days, this expansion was energizing to us DJs and we had an extra spark to our shows then.
That was a really good thing because the total number of songs that we could fit into an hour was squeezed by an ever growing number of commercials. There was an 18 minute limit per hour for commercials imposed by the FCC back then so it was not unusual to have commercials between almost every two records. But, since most of those commercials were sold and produced by the station, they blended better with our shows than the ones you typically hear today. Remember this was way before music blocks and stop sets, so the DJ’s job included making the commercials as much fun as the music by tying it all together with his or her patter. We all knew the sponsors and advertisers, most of whom wanted us to mix it up for them and we did. For example one year I quipped that Hardee’s should rename their “Huskee” the “Har-Har” and use Jackie Gleason as their announcer so he could invite you to buy a “Hardee-Har-Har!” The local franchise owner called me on that one to tell me that he was passing that idea up the line. Fortunately someone had the common sense to squash that idea before it happened.
One of the coolest things about the Christmas Songs is the new one that gets added each and every year. They slide in next to the old Platters, or Temptations like a spot was being saved for them. A few years ago it was Vince Vance and the Valiants hit “All I Want for Christmas is You” fronted by Lisa Layne. This year it is "Mary, Did You Know?" by Pentatonix from their Christmas Album “That's Christmas to Me!” I can hardly wait until next season to see what will be new then. Oh MY!