With Thanksgiving in our rear view mirror, it is time to get into the Christmas spirit. That should not be too difficult to do considering the last year or two we have had. Nothing sets the mood better than Christmas music and there is definitely no shortage of holiday Internet radio stations. There are stations like my Recommended Station for next month, which you will be able to read about if you are a Patreon supporter, that stream holiday tunes all year round. There are Internet stations that mix in holiday hits during the holiday season along with their normal music rotation. Then there are stations that play 100% holiday music for a defined period before returning to their regular programming after the holiday. Here are four stand out Internet stations that do their full-on Christmas thing for a limited time only. Feast over these stations this holiday and savor every song.
- N.E. Classical Christmas (ME, 128 kbps/MP3)
New England Classical Christmas is a seasonal, Maine-based station that has been streaming for a decade. I lived in Maine for two years when I was Assistant Manager at Cambridge SoundWorks, and at the same time, I did some part time voice work at WBACH-FM, Maine’s classical music network (I am sorry to report the station has long since imploded). I also volunteered for Maine Public Television for a couple of their on-air auction fundraisers. Although I did not live in Maine for long (I moved to take a position with B&W Loudspeakers in MA), I have many very fond memories of my time there and I often think it might be the perfect place to retire when I am able to finally stop working twenty years from now (just in time for there to be no money left in Social Security). But I digress.
Maine Public Radio, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary this year, exclusively hosts New England Classical Christmas on their website. However, you do not need to go to the website to listen. The station is available to aggregators, so you can tune it on your Internet radio. NECC emerges from its slumber every year in November to resume its dedicated holiday streaming and is expected to stream at least into January of next year if not later, as if to gradually ease you out of the holiday instead of the jarring hard stop on December 26th.
Gale Parmelee is New England Classical’s Founder and Director of Programming. He took time out from his holiday programming duties to respond to my “story behind the station” questions:
PS: Roughly how many songs are in your holiday library?
GP: “Just over 2,500 pieces ranging from Choral, Orchestral, Solo Voice, and Solo Instrumental.“
PS: Why is it called “New England” Classical? Is it because it is in Maine?
GP: “The history of the name stems from when I started Classical Vermont, which was a classical online station originating from VT where I lived at the time. I later decided to embrace all of New England and rebranded [it] as NewEnglandClassical.Com. It was after that, the Christmas/Holiday channel was launched each season. I since stopped the regular classical stream but due to the popularity (high listenership in NE and around the world) of New England Classical Christmas, I kept that going.“
PS: What is Maine Public Radio’s involvement with the station?
GP: “Four years ago, I approached Maine Public Radio (I am a classical music host/producer for Maine Public Classical) with the concept of using New England Classical Christmas as an online Holiday Channel for their website. It’s a great partnership for them and me as they are able to secure underwriting support and serve the loyal Maine Public Classical audience with a specialized Holiday channel online each season and for me to continue serving the NECC fan base around the world!“
PS: Anything else to add about the music?
GP: “I started the channel out of my passion for seasonal music and a vast personal CD collection. The core sound is focused on Choral and Orchestral pieces, both very familiar and some lovely rare tracks. A small sample of ensembles include:The Boston Pops, Handel & Haydn Society, Robert Shaw Chorale,Canadian Brass,The Cambridge Singers, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, [and] Choir of King’s College Cambridge. “In between, we feature many solo artists from the classical world (both instrumental/vocal) as well as compatible pieces from artists like George Winston and Mannheim Steamroller.”
Pass The Potatoes
I have New England Classical Christmas set to a preset and I can tell you it is as comforting and as filling as that side of buttery, hot mashed potatoes you will devour during Christmas dinner, except without the lumps.
Trivia: Though not officially using the “Pops” name until 1900, the Boston Pops was formed in 1885 by Civil War veteran Henry Lee Higginson. They performed at Symphony Hall for the 1st time in 1901. Higginson insisted the rows of seats on Symphony Hall’s main floor be replaced by tables and chairs for all Pops concerts, a tradition that continues to this day.
2. Folk Alley Holiday (NY, 128 kbps/MP3)
When I worked for my college FM radio station in Boston’s historic back bay as a jazz DJ, our weekday mainstream jazz program went on the air at 10am, immediately following the morning drive show “Coffee House”. That very popular four hour program featured classic and contemporary folk music. I used to love listening to it around this time every year, especially as the snow fell on Beacon Street in Boston, which the studio’s large picture window overlooked. Nice memories.
Unfortunately, the Coffee House (along with the rest of the station’s unique block programming) went out that picture window after the station changed its format several years ago in order to sound more like other stations. For shame. Thankfully, I can turn to Folk Alley’s Holiday Stream. Though Folk Alley’s primary folk music station mixes in holiday music on Christmas Eve-day, their dedicated holiday music station has already let its Christmas hair down with 30+ hours of old and new, secular and holy, Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, New Years, and winter-related music that gets shuffled and repeated.
A Musical Chameleon
Linda Fahey, Folk Alley’s Executive Director, says their holiday station is a musical chameleon, meaning it changes format based on the given holiday, like Christmas, Halloween, or even Valentine’s Day. Since they started the holiday stream in 2005, they add new holiday songs every year to keep things as fresh as a newly cut Christmas tree.
Folk Alley is a non-profit service of the Fresh Grass Foundation. What that means for you as a listener of their Holiday Music Stream is no commercials. What that means for musicians is the F.G.F. administers the prestigious Steve Martin Banjo Prize (yes, that Steve Martin), operates Studio 9, a state-of-the-art recording studio in North Adams, MA, produces Fresh Grass Music Festivals, and offers numerous grants and commissions for musicians and song writers. The latter has become especially important given the pandemic’s profound impact on musicians’ income.
To me, folk music is like milk. It will rarely offend anyone and it feels good going down. So, tell Aunt Pat to leave her acoustic guitar at home this holiday and play the Folk Alley Holiday Music Stream instead. No offense, Aunt Pat.
Trivia: In 2009, Bob Dylan released a full-length Christmas album, “Christmas In The Heart”. It opened at number 5 on Billboard’s Folk Album chart and number 1 on the Holiday Album chart. Dylan produced the album himself but used the pseudonym Jack Frost.
3. JIB on the Web (MA, 128 kbps/MP3)
One of my all-time favorite Internet stations, and a previous Recommended Station, JIB on the Web, broadcasts their annual “The Beautiful Music of Christmas” starting at noon on December 24th and runs through midnight on Christmas Day. According to Founder and Program Director, and original WJIB-FM host, Warren Schroeger, 90% of the Christmas music that aired on the original WJIB FM in 1970 will be aired during this special 36-hour broadcast, but with more attention paid to the instrumental vs. vocal ratio. “JIB on the Web follows the integration of Christmas Music much the way it was done in the distant past on [beautiful music/easy listening] stations”, Schroeger explained to me in an email. “Beginning with a few tracks peppered in on the day after Thanksgiving and gradually adding more until the beginning of the continuous program on Christmas Eve, Carols are added about 2 weeks before Christmas Day. Additionally, JOTW host John Bartel provides brief Christmas vignettes between segments twice an hour.”
The “Christmas Festival of Music” program, which aired over a 24-hour period, debuted on the original WJIB 97FM at 6pm on December 24th, 1967. It was presented commercial-free and was later sponsored exclusively by The Boston Globe. Since JIB on the Web is commercial-free, like the original “Christmas Festival” program, you will not hear any commercials during The Beautiful Music of Christmas.
In advance of the special program, The Boston Globe would run a full-page ad listing of all the Christmas songs and when they would air on WJIB-FM. Surprisingly, Schroeger, says he is legally prohibited from continuing that part of the WJIB tradition because “it violates the licensing agreement stating that individual titles/artists must not be revealed in advance.” Bah Humbug!
As with the original station’s version, I look forward to JIB on the Web’s “The Beautiful Music of Christmas”. It is the ideal soundtrack for unwrapping gifts from Santa, digging into a delicious holiday meal with family, or sipping Grandma’s homemade eggnog (or not).
Trivia: Eggnog originated in Britain during medieval times as a hot, milky drink mixed with alcohol. It became associated with the holidays thanks to American colonists in the 1700’s who had more eggs than they knew what to do with along with an abundance of cheap rum.
4. Vinyl Voyage Radio (Canada, 64 kbps/AAC)
My final limited Christmas-worthy station to make note of this month is Vinyl Voyage Radio started by history teacher and novelist, Bruce David Janu in 2012. Vinyl Voyage’s music files are harvested exclusively from vinyl records. They also have interesting specialty shows such as The K-Tel Time Machine that only plays K-Tel records and The Detention Club dedicated to Frank Sinatra. On top of all this, VVR is non-profit so you will not hear any commercials.
80 Years of Christmas Music
VVR changes over to all Christmas music starting December 19th as part of their 9th annual “Vinyl Christmas” (the music for which is also taken only from vinyl records): “…over 2,000 tracks we are streaming—from instrumental to choral, from Motown to crooner. This is the music you grew up with.” The station says their music playlist draws from holiday records issued over the past 80 years. VVR’s Vinyl Christmas has a limited shelf life, ceasing its holiday music on December 27th.
Janu put himself in the Christmas spirit to answer my questions about his pro-vinyl station:
PS: What was the catalyst for switching over to all Christmas music during the holiday?
BDJ: “It was in response to the local radio station that starts streaming Christmas music in early November. And they basically have a playlist of 300 or so songs, and repeat the same songs over and over again. It is horrible.”
PS: Everything VVR plays is from vinyl records?
DJ: “Except for the Sinatra Christmas show from 1957, everything we play during this time is sourced from Vinyl.“Currently we have 1,387 tracks in our library that we stream every Christmas — so, way more than the local radio station. These are broken down into 1) Vocals and Songs (our largest category). 2) Instrumentals. 3) Choral Music and 4) Christmas Hits. We’ll probably add another 100 or so tracks before we start streaming this year.“Since 2012, we have added some 100 albums to the Vinyl Voyage Library. Each year, we add 5-10 more. One of the things I start doing around this time is going to Goodwill to grab some Christmas albums I don’t yet have. I usually find a few. In fact, I may stop off today after doing some grocery shopping.”
PS: Do you have any favorite holiday songs?
BDJ: “I am a huge Sinatra fan. So, my favorites are the Sinatra Christmas tunes. We even stream his Christmas special with Bing Crosby from 1957. But I love the classics — especially the albums from the 50s and 60s. Other than Sinatra, my favorite albums to put on the platter are the Christmas compilation albums that were released by True Value Hardware. Remember those? I have over a dozen of them, and hoping to get more.”
PS: What is the oldest holiday song you’ve ever played?
BDJ: “I am not sure exactly what our oldest song is. But “Santa Came in the Spring ” by Benny Goodman is from 1935. So that is among the oldest. Some of the big band songs we have in our catalog are probably mid-to-early 30s. I do have some shellac albums that I play on a 1920 Victrola, but I haven’t yet digitized those. Maybe this year? :)”
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Vinyl
If you do not own a turntable (yet), or have one but do not have a vast Christmas record library, tune in Vinyl Voyage Radio’s Vinyl Christmas and have yourself a vinyl little Christmas.
Trivia:The oldest Christmas song in terms of what we traditionally think of as Christmas songs is “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” According to billboard.com, “while the standard lyrics come from the 19th century, variations on the song go back to at least the 1650’s. A century later, in 1739, we have the first published version of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ By the 1800’s, a number of the Christmas carols we know and sing today start cropping up.”
I hope you enjoy these limited edition holiday stations. I wish all of my RecommendedStations.com readers a safe and happy holiday. Remember- The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to play your favorite holiday Internet stations for all to hear!
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