On December 24, 1906, Reginald Fessenden transmitted the first wireless public radio broadcast. It included Christmas songs, stories and, in Fessenden’s words, his own “not very good singing.” Today’s listeners have many—usually very good—derivatives of Fessenden’s holiday work, and here in Charlottesville the programming at local FM radio stations is no exception.
“Our perspective is that there are some really cool, different and newer takes on Christmas classics,” says Jeff Sweatman, the 106.1 The Corner program director and brand manager. His current favorite is a holiday album released last year by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. After Jones’ recent passing from pancreatic cancer, he says the album has stayed front-of-mind.
He also references tunes like Fleming and John’s “Winter Wonderland,” which mixes in “Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin, and Spiraling’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” featuring bites from The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
Sweatman says The Corner tries to be the antidote to sister station Z95.1, which plays Christmas classics 24 hours a day starting on Black Friday. He tells a story of airing Kasey Musgraves’ “Present Without a Bow” featuring Leon Bridges right after Halloween, which sparked a number of angry social media posts—some in all caps—from Corner listeners.
“I think of people stuck in their office listening to [holiday] music all day,” Sweatman says. “Even when we go all Christmas, we mix it up. There’s a couple of good Hanukkah ones in there, too.”
The Corner will “go all Christmas” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day until noon, playing a mix of listener favorites such as Barenaked Ladies, Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles and The Ramones.
Mark Keefe, program director and general manager of WNRN 91.9, has a similar perspective and tries to “not overwhelm people with [holiday music].” What the station is really good at “is not making people who really don’t want to hear that all the time mad,” says Keefe. “You’re not going to get dogs barking ‘Jingle Bells’ here.”
From Christmas Eve through Christmas Day, each of WNRN’s specialty shows will present its own holiday program. One seasonal special that airs this month features tunes recorded in-house by Rob Cheetham, Lowland Hum and The Hill and Wood. “That concert was really cool,” Keefe says. “Having some good local takes on holiday tunes [makes it] pretty special.”
Keefe says the station will cap off 2016 with the year’s top 100 songs, as chosen by listeners. Voting via the WNRN website closes Friday, December 23, at 11:59pm and listeners can catch 2014 through 2016’s top tunes from December 28 to December 30.
“You get the cornucopia of holiday programming in Charlottesville,” says Josh Jackson, program director for public radio networks WVTF 89.7 and WVTW 88.5. Jackson says his listeners enjoy programs such as King’s College’s live broadcast from “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which airs on WVTF from 10am to noon on Christmas Eve, and the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day broadcast from 11am to 1pm, featuring live performances of waltzes, polkas and other classical tunes.
On Christmas Day for the first time, WVTW will present “Tinsel Tales,” stories on the meaning of Christmas and other holiday stories, as told by famous public radio voices such as Audie Cornish, Nina Totenberg and David Sedaris.
Peter Jones, WTJU 91.1’s folk director and volunteer coordinator for the past 20 years, looks forward to similar storytelling programs. Jones oversees live music at WTJU, and says the station’s 200-plus volunteers and hosts bring something new to their programs for the season.
Jones also hosts WTJU’s “Folk and Beyond” on Thursdays from 4 to 6pm, and “Tell Us a Tale” on Sundays from noon to 2pm, which he says is the only children’s radio program in central Virginia. This Sunday, at noon, Jones says his listeners will hear Hanukkah stories.
“We just hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season,” WVTF’s Jackson says. “We love our listeners and we are a community.”
Tuned in to the holidays
WVTW Radio IQ 88.5
“Tinsel Tales,” holiday stories
from Audie Cornish, David Sedaris and more
Sunday, December 25, noon to 3pm
“A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” live from King’s College
Saturday, December 24, 10am to noon
“New Year’s Day live from Vienna,” presented by the Vienna Philharmonic
Sunday, January 1, 11am to 1pm
“Tell Us a Tale,” stories of Hanukkah
Sunday, December 25, noon to 2pm
“Top 100 songs of 2014 to 2016”
Wednesday, December 28, to Friday, December 30
Seasonal music now through December 25
The Corner 106.1
Seasonal music now through December 25