Christmas Music – Ready or Not, Here It Comes

Christmas was a mixed bag in the Peck household as I was growing up. In my younger years, there were lavish gifts and great family gatherings. In my early teens, things began to change — one Christmas dinner was in the vein of “The Santa Clause” — not Denny’s, but a local Wyoming restaurant after a failed attempt at a home dinner.

In the early good years, there was one constant – beautiful Christmas music from vinyl that my mother would play on the console stereo. It almost entirely consisted of traditional classical choral carols. In later years, I began to collect Christmas music to maintain my good early memories of the holidays. I’ve amassed a huge collection, much of it traditional choral carols and new-age counterparts. When I began to volunteer for KUVO, I began to build a jazz collection too.

Commercial radio stations I worked for always went back and forth on when to start playing it, how much to play, and what it would be. To this day, there’s a “lite” or “great in the car, and in the office” station in virtually every major market that goes 100% Christmas sometime around Thanksgiving. And, like their regular non-holiday format, it consists largely of the lowest-common-denominator pablum that makes up their programming the rest of the year. Perhaps not surprisingly, it typically rockets them to the top of their market’s December ratings book.

That brings me to The Other Side’s first Christmas — in 2020, to boot (a year where online Christmas stations reportedly are seeing record listenership). If you listened to the previous incarnation of The Other Side, you heard The 36 Hours of Christmas. 36 hours seemed too little this year. So, I’m adding an extra day and giving it a new (and, ever-so-slightly more creative) name. Listen for Noel 60, starting December 23 at noon Mountain time, and running through midnight Christmas night. You’ll also be hearing one or two “preview” songs every hour leading up to the show.

You will hear a few mainstream songs in the rotation — Merle Haggard just has to be included in 2020. Feliz Navidad? José Feliciano’s version didn’t make the cut, but there’s a great Latin Jazz version (you will hear some other José). There is one Carpenters song (but not Merry Christmas Baby, even though I really like that song). Santa Baby? Many versions, including those from Eartha and Madonna. I hope you like all the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas collections. Every song is included, along with a lot of Jim Brickman’s piano. And, then there’s the Classical — that category will contribute about twice as much as the New Age and Jazz categories. This will largely be choral classics recorded in churches, complete with coughs, sneezes, and cars and trucks rolling by outside during the recording sessions. This will *NOT* be “Lite FM’s” ratings buster!

One thing that was challenging putting this together, and that may be challenging in your listening environment: audio processing. Classical music, in particular, proves challenging for loudness leveling (especially when mixing in other non-classical tracks). I’m staying true to The Other Side’s philosophy on not destroying music’s dynamic range. That means some of the classical pieces, in particular, may sound quieter than what surrounds them. I’m trying to maintain the huge dynamic range that’s found in this music — that’s a large part of the beauty of it that I’m vowing to preserve. You may find yourself turning it up and down a little more to compensate than you normally would.

Have a listen… this takes me back to my best Christmas years. I hope it adds to your (almost certainly challenging) Holiday this year.