Driving to work on the afternoon of Christmas Eve brings bittersweet emotions. In our small city, the downtown stores close early. No longer are there busy throngs of shoppers. Their motor vehicles have carried them home or out of town for the big holiday.
Even though a few convenience stores remain open, the city feels deserted and the streets are as vacant as night time. This year, with Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, the few people assigned to occupy the businesses that remain open have resigned themselves to ennui or feelings of futility.
For more than a dozen years, the vacant streets and an empty radio studio were my holiday companions. More than once, the DJ who worked the shift before mine asked if I cared if he left early in order to be home with his family. No, I didn’t mind, there was no point in him sticking around as long as somebody was in the building.
During those Christmas Eves before the advent of modern automation, announcers played the LP records and open reel tapes of pre-recorded syndicated Christmas programs, making sure the holiday oriented commercials played during the breaks between segments.
Every year, we aired the same version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. The annual radio drama only enhanced the listeners’ feelings of isolation. Thankfully, two or three folks usually phoned to express their appreciation for the holiday programs. Most of the callers were senior citizens who spent Christmas at home, alone. Our short conversations were mutually beneficial.
The main reason I worked as the night shift announcer on Christmas Eve was in order to produce the one live holiday show on our station. “An Eclectic Christmas” was certainly the only one like it in Nebraska and perhaps any adjacent state. It was my brainchild and yearly gift to people who wanted something non-traditional for the holiday.
As the name implied, the program was a carefully mixed sampler of a few different genres. The emphasis was on both light classical and electronica. “An Eclectic Christmas” was truly a labor of love. There was a Zen-like unity of listeners, studio equipment, and me. This was unlike any other show I ever produced. The eclectic mix always ended at the stroke of midnight after a carefully chosen climactic musical piece.
The arrival of Christmas proper signaled the return of normalcy and regular pre-recorded, automated holiday music. The canned music sounded obligatory and dry. The mandatory nostalgia brought back the visions of vacant streets, mostly empty stores, and store clerks watching clocks–waiting to go home for Christmas.
At the radio station, the first half-hour of Christmas meant it was time to eat lunch.