The sound of Christmas carols in the air

Cal Beverly's picture

Here’s a Christmas carol story.

My first job was playing Christmas carols. I was hired Dec. 15, 1959 at age 15 for a two-hour disk jockey slot on a little 250-watt AM station not far from the bluffs of the Chattahoochee River. My first official action was to cue up Percy Faith’s version of “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Some may conclude I reached the high point of my working life early. At any rate, I love Christmas music, and I increasingly miss hearing the grand old songs of the season.

The way it was in those days of local radio, Christmas tunes slipped into the record rotation right after Thanksgiving, roughly a ratio of one seasonal tune every sixth or seventh record. (Yes, in those far-off days, we spun something called “records,” thin disks of dark plastic with spiral grooves on both sides which produced sounds when a diamond needle was applied to the surfaces. They rotated on larger spinning metal platters called “turntables.”)

The closer we got to Christmas, the higher the ratio of Christmas songs to regular records. By Christmas Eve, every song was a carol, usually about three-to-one religious to secular. Christmas Day (and I worked from sign-on to sign-off several of them) we played mostly the great old anthems announcing the Good News.

Elvis was bigger than the Beatles ever would be, and his “Blue Christmas” was two years old and already on its way to classic status. Brenda Lee had been “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for a year, and the year before, an audio engineer named Ross Bagdasarian called himself David Seville and speeded up his voice to play all four parts of “The Chipmunk Song.” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was little more than a decade old but already was the bestselling single record of all time.

If you turned on your radio, you heard Christmas songs. By the way, in those pre-politically-correct days, eight of the 10 most popular Christmas songs had been written by Jews, from Irvin Berlin’s “White Christmas” to Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” I guess those hugely talented souls lacked sensitivity training so widely available today that would have informed them that they should have been offended by the mere mention of Christmas.

Although I was a Top-40 teen, my first paycheck resulted from my playing hour after hour of Christmas music, minimum wage, a dollar an hour. Looking back, I see it was some of the most satisfying money I’ve ever earned.

By my second Christmas at WULA, we had begun recording whole program segments during the week beforehand. The idea was to allow the DJ to sit back while a 30-minute reel unwound with the prerecorded music and commercial holiday greetings: “The next 15 minutes of Christmas music is sponsored by Neal Logue Company, headquarters for all your clothing needs, wishing you a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year.”

If it was meant to save the DJ trouble, it didn’t. But we did it anyway. Dec. 24 and 25, reel after reel of audio tape lay around the control room, in some semblance of order. (It never failed that some segment was missing, requiring us to “go live” for 15 to 30 minutes. We had a spiral notebook with stock holiday greetings and we plugged in the blanks with whatever sponsor we had for that segment.)

So it was that long Christmas day of 1960: low man on the totem pole, I had the afternoon, evening and sign-off shifts. United Press International had moved a teletype wire feature a few days before to be used Christmas Day: “Somewhere, far to the North, a very old gentleman lies fast asleep ....”

I was taken with the sentiment and recorded it for use as my sign-off segment. I hunted just the right background music for the piece, choosing orchestral leader Percy Faith’s “Hallelujah” album (one of those dark circles of plastic with six or seven “cuts” per side).

The first song “bed” was, I think, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” back-timed to allow the final song to conclude just after my last sentence. That last song was “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

Sign-off was 11 p.m., so in the otherwise darkened and deserted radio station two miles south of town center, I rolled the tape at 10:57. I think the final words about Santa were echoes of that famous poem, “The Night before Christmas”: “... and to all a good night.”

It came off flawlessly, pretty good production work for a 16-year-old, if I do say so myself. I was hugely satisfied. I hit the power-off button on the transmitter and turned off the switches on the audio console.

Nothing should have remained on but the lights as I prepared to lock up and ride my bike home. But, I heard music.

Now, I was a pretty agnostic teen. It wasn’t that I believed that there was no God. It was just that I had no notion that all that stuff had anything to do with me.

But here I was, just after 11 p.m. in a radio station that had been silenced by the only switches connected to any audio sources, hearing music: Christmas music.

I remember shaking my heard, as if to clear it. I remember a slight chill running up my back. I was a rational being, but I was quickly running out of checks on my checklist of audio and power sources to account for the music that floated through the several rooms of the station.

“I know! It’s that radio in the lobby,” I thought at last. We kept it turned on during the day so visitors could hear our broadcasts while they waited. “Now that we are signed off, some other station on the same frequency is coming through on our receiver.”

I found the pink plastic radio broadcasting a low level of static in the lobby. I turned it off. I could still hear the music.

I had no other explanations. All the power was off to all the audio and radio equipment. The sound was generalized, not confined to one office or area. I had no explanation for it then. I still don’t.

I turned off the last lobby lights and locked the front door and got on my old 26-inch Schwinn to ride the deserted Highway 431 to and through downtown.

I no longer heard the music now that I was outside, under the stars. I looked up at those twinkling lights in the final minutes of Christmas Day, 1960. Not another living soul was in sight. I still felt a prickle up my back, but it was not fear. It was curiously peaceful.

I pedaled home, now hearing the music in my mind, the music of voices without words, from a tune first set to guitar in a Bavarian church so many decades before. It was “Silent Night.”

That’s my Christmas story, and I’m sticking to it.

[Editor’s note: This column was published first in 2002.]

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Submitted by sageadvice on Sun, 02/24/2008 - 2:44pm.


Submitted by sageadvice on Sun, 02/24/2008 - 2:41pm.

The above Christmas Carol story seems to be a little early, but what the heck?
Kind of reminds me of the way the records are kept at the CDC about types of flu, and the Driver's License Division!

Submitted by NinaLynn on Fri, 01/18/2008 - 8:41am.

Ahh, believe it or not, I just read your Christmas article. Nice story and I've got to tell you something.You wrote a sentence,"Looking back,I see it was some of the most satisfying money I’ve ever earned." That got me to thinking how right you were. I was a teen in the late 60's and baby-sat to earn money. Teens then earned 50 cents an hr. and after mid-night it was 75 cents. I loved it when people stayed out later then mid-night! Taking care of 3 or more kids,feeding them and putting them to bed with stories for 50 cents and hr.! Today,I am not even sure what they get to baby-sit. My daughter baby-sat when she was a young teen,(she's now 32)and the rate at the time was $3.00 + an hr.
But you were right, it was satisfying money to us. I never looked at it that way.
The weekend would find myself shopping with friends for the "new" 45's that just came out.We were sooooo cool weren't we?
Thanks again!

BPR's picture
Submitted by BPR on Fri, 01/18/2008 - 8:51am.

Thank you for your nice comments- until we meet for coffee here's a hug from me to you.Smiling btw where is Hack doesn't he usually do this coffee meeting?

"Hope Changes Everything"

Sniffles's picture
Submitted by Sniffles on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 9:09am.

Excerpt from the upcoming book “Cal Beverly: The Lack of Conscience of a Conservative” to be published in January 2008 by the Regnery Press. Reprinted with permission

Here’s a Halloween story.

One of my first jobs was playing Halloween songs. I was hired Oct. 1, 1972 at age 36 for a two-hour disk jockey slot on a little 250-watt AM station not far from the bluffs of the Chattahoochee River. My first official action was to cue up Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s classic version of “The Monster Mash” as a signal to conservatives everywhere that the Halloween season had arrived. Halloween, of course, is a very important day on the conservative calendar.

We’d generally have a ratio of three top-40 songs to one Halloween song back in those easy going days. Being low man on the proverbial totem pole (not to mention not being a full-fledged conservative yet), I had the unenviable task of working the night shift on Halloween. Not only did I miss trick-or-treating, but I’d also miss the conservative’s Black Mass at midnight.

I remember watching enviously as high ranking conservatives would show up the morning of Halloween and prepare the station’s community room for the evening’s festivities. Once they even ran out of red paint because the pentagram they were creating was just a bit too big. “Go to the hardware store and get another 2 gallons of paint, kid!” they said to me. I was pleased to contribute a little somethingin my own way.

Halloween night finally came, and I still had an important role to fill, Black Mass or no Black Mass. I played Halloween songs exclusively once the sun went down, interspersing the songs (usually weird stuff from Dr. Demento) with taped loops of groans and shrieks.

The town conservatives all arrived at the station about 10 pm wearing their cool black robes. Someday, I thought, I’ll be wearing those robes. There was a little blonde haired girl all dressed in white being led into the community room as well. She appeared to be drunk or stoned or something. I never saw her again after that night.

Well, my show ended at the stroke of midnight as I played Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” backwards, which of course you could plainly hear them wail “Hail to My Sweet Satan” at the end. A suitably creepy end to the evening, and I congratulated myself on a job well done.

Mr. Poovy, the station manager, stuck his head out from the community room briefly and told me I could go home. I got on my Huffy bicycle and wheeled around front of the station.

Then I heard it….softly at first.


I looked around everywhere, trying to hear the source of the unearthly sounds.


I thought it was my twin brothers Beau Beverly and Blake Beverly having some fun with me. This was a few years before they hit it big in pro wrestling, they’d just gotten out of the county lockup after doing 30 days for tag-teaming Mary Sue Lumpkin behind Woolworths. They did some serious grapplin’ before they got into rasslin’!!! But I digress.

Anyway, I yelled at Blake and Beau to Cut It Out, but the sound just kept coming…and it was getting louder.

Then I saw them.


LOTS of Zombies.

Evidently whatever Mr. Poovy and the town conservatives had been doing at that there Black Mass had disturbed the Dead in the cemetery next door. They were coming up out of their graves and they didn’t look none too happy.


That word makes me shudder to this day. I pedaled my bike with a speed I didn’t know I was capable of achieving. I think I made it home in record time. I ran into the house, white as a sheet, and locked myself in my room.

The next morning, normalcy had reclaimed the world. I convinced myself I’d just had a bad hallucination, probably from eating too many of those awful tasting brownies that Sunshine Moonflower (the day shift DJ) used to leave around the station.

I went downstairs and smelled something wonderful. My mom always was the greatest cook! I asked Mom what was for breakfast and she said “something very special….sweetbreads!”

Gee Mom, I’ve never had that before…what are “sweetbreads”?

She turned and looked at me, her eyes a bit glazed. Her mouth twitched a bit and she replied…..


That’s my Halloween story, and I’m sticking to it.

[Editor’s note: This parody was published first in 2007.]

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Wed, 10/29/2008 - 8:48am.

I wonder what sort of costume Cal Beverly will be wearing this year? Eye-wink

JGF9148's picture
Submitted by JGF9148 on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 3:13pm.

Thats really funny,good one Sniffles, I'm still laughing.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 10:47am.

Thanks Sniffles, that story made me laugh.

Does Cal ban people for being naughty? I hope not. Otherwise, these blogs would be very boring.

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