Christmas On The Radio

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?


PD:  And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME:  Couldn’t we play more than that?


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

6 thoughts on “Christmas On The Radio”

  1. Amen, Anita! Althought it’s been said many times, many ways, I too have always liked all those seasonal Christmas records and special Christmas programming. And not just because Hanukkah songs – to put it gently – for the most part offer little of musical interest to anyone over the age of 7 or 8. Traditional Christmas music – the hymns, the English/Irish/Scots traditional songs – offers a genuinely transcendent beauty. And of course the popular classics like “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas” that were written by my own “co-religionists” Mel Torme and Irving Berlin still seem timeless to me. The great challenge is how to keep drilling the same well without going dry, and maybe that’s one reason why most of today’s artists – apart from Mannheim Steamroller, maybe – seem to have pretty much given up on the genre, along with the marketing consultants who dominate what passes for radio programming today. Fact is, I’m not sure how many musicmakers are really up to that daunting task.

    If Anita were my PD, I’m not sure how much of the following would make the cut, but in addition to all the old standards (Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, et al), my Christmas playlist would probably include:

    Jimi Hendrix – “Little Drummer Boy”/”Silent Night”
    Beach Boys Christmas Album
    Phil Spector’s Christmas Album (I know, I know, but I’d still play it)
    Beatles Christmas Records (increasingly weird but endearing fan-club only releases, which inexplicably have still never been commercially reissued)
    Randy Newman “Christmas in Capetown”
    Doug Legacy “Christmas in Prison”
    Ry Cooder “Christmas in Southgate”
    Chuck Berry “Run Rudolph Run”
    Kinks “Father Christmas”
    Charles Brown “Please Come Home for Christmas”
    Bob Dorough “Blue Xmas”
    and of course:
    Stan Freberg “Green Christmas”

    There are many, many other worthy inclusions, but I will gratefully defer to Anita on those. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!


    Joel Bellman

  2. I love reading other people’s lists of their favorites this time of year. Joel is a man I have shared more than one programming meeting with. I thought I had a big Christmas music collection but lordy, lordy, his has surpassed mine in the eclectic category. Doug Legacy, “Christmas In Prison???”

  3. Your example meeting with the Program Director is one I have attended in reality many times and it is dead on. I was always the one lobbying for more Christmas music, too, while the rest of the staff thought I was some kind of screwball. I did cross the room and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my brethren, however, when we were told we’d be playing Jingle Bells by the Singing Dogs every single hour.

    No faster way to “Bah! Humbug!” than that!

  4. Oh Holy Night takes me back to sixth grade where, at 10 years old, you had to audition to be part of “the tree” in Mrs. Bain’s elementary school Christmas pagent. On the planned event, at least 100 kids with their capes on, filed into the dark auditorium with flashlights held to illuminate their faces. The finale was Oh Holy Night. The “tree” was made up of about 15 kids and the “star” came down from the top of the tree and sang the last verse solo. It was a huge event for a bunch of 10 years olds and Mrs. Bain made sure it went off without a hitch.

    We have a local station here in Reno that starts the holiday music the day after Thanksgiving and I keep it on all through the holidays.

    See, there are many of us who LOVE Christmas!

  5. As I am currently spending countless hours every day sitting at my home computer attempting to reinvent my career, I have had occasion to listen to nonstop Christmas music on my local radio station. All I can add is this: Christmas music to me is like eating sushi…….a little goes a long way!

    Also, my absolute pet peeve is when a contemporary artist changes the arrangement of a traditional Christmas song in an attempt to make it a little more hip. Just give me the Ronettes Christmas album and I’ll be fine (although I’ll never be toasting Phil Spector again with my eggnog latte!)

  6. O.K. maybe I was a little hasty………now that I’ve had a few more hours of radio Christmas music listening I have found two exceptions: Aaron Neville and James Taylor.

    I rest my case!

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