Merry Christmas, friends, readers, and watchers!
I decided to eschew with the traditional holiday-themed Christmas recap, and instead share a little local treasure that was commonplace during the earliest part of my life, and only began making a comeback in more recent years, spreading its warm Christmas joy to the rest of the country.
WPIX, which is a local independent station based in New York City, aired a program traditionally on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day every year, beginning in 1966, and running until 1989. It involved classic Christmas songs (selected from the Easy Listening format) set against the warm glow of a beautiful fireplace. That program was simply titled Yule Log, and it has a nice history dating back to the the mid 1960s.
WPIX President and CEO Fred M. Thrower concepted the program, which was set to air on Christmas Eve for several hours, commercial free and with all other programming pre-empted during that time. His goal was to give his employees time off to spend with their families. The tradition carried on for twenty-three more years, until it became cost-ineffective, leading to its cancellation in 1990 when new station management took over.
This upset area residents, but the network didn’t budge. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, WPIX brought back Yule Log as a comfort to New York-area residents during the trying time. Since then, Yule Log’s warm glow has spread to other Tribune-owned stations, and has a home on Antenna TV, where it airs every year since 2011.
The original Yule Log video was seventeen seconds long, and filmed at Gracie Manor in New York. By 1969, the film had begun to degrade, and the short film showed jerkiness and an artificial appearance. When it was re-filmed in 1970 (at a similar-looking fireplace in California during the summer of 1970), it was filmed for six minutes and three seconds. This was the version that aired every year from then on, until its cancellation. This version was considered to be lost until found in a mis-marked film canister in July 2016. This version aired on December 24 and 25, 2016, exactly 50 years to day of the debut of this program.
After the 9/11 attacks, the original program has been aired in a digitally-restored version, and since 2016, a fourth hour has been added.
As a kid, I absolutely remember The Yule Log during its later years (I was seven years old the last year it aired), but we never watched/listened to it. Our Christmas tree was always in the area between our living and dining rooms (which were later changed to our family and computer area rooms while I was in high school), the same spot it would be in the entire nearly 18 years (1988-2016) that we lived in my childhood home.
The television was in the family room at the back of the house during the majority of the time we lived there, and even after we moved it to that front room (coincidentally, in 2001 – the year Yule Log was brought back), we still never turned the television on. Opening presents on Christmas morning was family time, and we talked in the area where the Christmas tree was while we opened presents.
For me, WPIX has always had a special place in my heart. Knowing they’ve kept the tradition going (unfortunately, it took tragedy to realize how important traditions are), and time has allowed it to grow and change while they still air the version everyone knows in the New York area warms my heart.
This year, as I did two years ago, I’ll be opening my Christmas presents in Southern California with my future in-laws. But knowing that there is a version of the Yule Log from my New York-area media market youth still airing makes me happy.
There are many variations by other networks, but the OG of Yule Logs will always be the version aired on WPIX. This is a complete video of the broadcast, as aired on December 24, 1983.
So instead of a fancy recap full of photos and video clips, why don’t we just bask in the glow of a warm video fire the way New Yorkers did for many years, and they way they (and many others) now do.
That, my friends, is what Christmas is all about.
Special thanks to YouTube user Greg Rempe for making this video happen. Check out his YouTube channel, where he archives the BBQ Central Show.
From my little family to yours, have a safe, happy, healthy, blessed, and above all, Merry Christmas.