Mythology: “a set of stories, traditions, or beliefs associated with a particular group or the history of an event, arising naturally or deliberately fostered.” Every culture has it. The Greeks and Romans believed the sun was Apollo’s chariot riding across the sky. Certain Native American tribes believed that the pine tree and the holly bush stay green and undying as a reward for steadfastly standing watch over the earth before the creation of man.
Mythology: We’ve all got it. We all have stories that explain why we are the way we are, or how we got to where we are. Although sometimes we tell them to others, we most often tell them to ourselves: how the love we lost or the slight we suffered, the lesson we learned or the race we won Changed Everything. It doesn’t matter if the story is true, any more than it mattered to the Greeks that the sun is really a ball of flaming gas. The myths have meaning, and we live by ’em nevertheless.
One of the most important tales in my personal mythology is set on Thursday, December 24, 1970, sometime between 10 and 11:00 in the evening. I’ve told it before. On that night, a 10-year-old boy’s excitement over Christmas collided for the first time with his love for his newest toy, the radio. After the family Christmas Eve celebration, and before his parents tuck him and his brother into bed to wait for Santa, he turns on his radio. It takes a moment for the green plastic Westinghouse he has scrounged from the basement to warm up, because it has tubes. When it comes to life, it’s already tuned to WLS from Chicago, and there’s music on.
“And every mother’s child is gonna spy / to see if reindeer really know how to fly.” [A] voice comes on with more holiday wishes, and I am overwhelmed with what I can only describe as a kind of one-ness with the radio. At that moment, I begin to want to be the voice, although I couldn’t have precisely articulated the thought at the time. As magical as it was to be a listener, at that moment something inside of me began to believe that to be on the other end of the transmission would be more magical still.
I don’t remember if I fell asleep that night with the radio on, but it doesn’t matter. In a way, I fell asleep with the radio inside of me. Such is the legacy of that Christmas Eve. . .
Did it really happen that way? It almost certainly did not. Perhaps I fought with my brother or got yelled at by my mother on the way to bed. Maybe the station didn’t play Nat King Cole at all. I could have been so excited about Christmas morning that I barely paid attention to the radio. But the myth has meaning, and I’ve lived by it nevertheless. It’s as powerful to me as the myths that helped the ancients explain the rain.
Here’s our last aircheck from the WLS Holiday Festival of Music, as heard in 1980. It’s in two parts, which contain most of the 10pm to 11pm hour of the show, 10 years to the hour from the setting of my myth, and 27 years ago tonight. The excerpts will give you a good feeling for the eclectic nature of the holiday music WLS played, and how the formatic elements of the show combined with it to convey—and to amplify—the sense of wonder we all want Christmas to bring.
From my house to yours, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
(2018 update: these links are live once again)
WLS Christmas Eve 1980 10-11pm part 1
WLS Christmas Eve 1980 10-11pm part 2