I’ve spent much of my life on the radio, playing music. When the Christmas songs start, the radio station staff revolts. Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director, in the good old days before a computer chose the music you heard.
PD: So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…
ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one per hour?
EVERYONE ELSE: No!
PD: And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.
ME: Couldn’t we play more than that?
EVERYONE ELSE: Shut up!
ME: Could I have more Christmas music on my show?
ON-AIR PERSON: I’ll be calling in sick.
ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON: You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now. I’ll be gone for a month.
The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated. I haven’t met many radio people who like Christmas music as much as I do. For me, Thanksgiving starts my own Christmas music marathon. Give me a couple of songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.
After years of local radio, I had the great opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show. Something Special aired on stations around the U.S. I was also writer and producer for this weekly four-hour radio magazine and it was more work than I could have imagined.
We began making our Christmas show while the weather said it was still summer. Show prep (a rather unimaginative term that means exactly what it sounds like) included knowing a lot about the music we’d be playing. We also knew many of the artists who wrote and performed the music and had been pre-recording their holiday greetings all year when they were in our studio.
For our first annual Christmas Is Something Special, we’d back-timed, to the second, all the music and scripts. Radio people live by the second hand. One of our pre-recorded “bits” for this show came from another broadcaster. My family loved a song called Christmas Isn’t Christmas Without You, found on an album sent to me by a record company years before. Researching the song for this show, I was surprised to learn it was written by a fellow radio person, Allan Hotlen.
Allan and I met when he was Program Director at (then legendary) KSFO in San Francisco, and now here he was, right around the corner at a station in Los Angeles. I asked him to tell how he came to write this song and he sent over a perfect recorded “talk-up” to his own song.
John Schneider was the guest co-host for this Christmas extravaganza. He’d appeared on my show and had become a friend. Generally we featured a celebrity guest for only the first hour of each week, but this time, John would be with us for all four hours.
John arrived with one of his ever-present dogs – maybe it was Smudge or, God rest her soul, Gracie. Cathleen (my daughter worked on the show) baked Christmas cookies and brought a small plug-in Christmas tree. John contributed warm apple fritters he picked up at that place he knew in Burbank. We took our positions at the microphones.
One of our song-stories was about Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas from the movie, Meet Me In St. Louis, about how the lyricist had written alternate words that didn’t make it into the movie. At half-past-early in the morning, John, apple fritter in hand, sang the original lyrics and the mood was complete. We sailed right along. I don’t remember any re-takes.
It’s one of my favorite radio shows ever. I’ll play it again in a few minutes, right after I plug in my desktop tree with the twinkle lights.
Ó By Anita Garner