Some people like Christmas music and some people really, really, really like Christmas music. I guess you can count Jon Solomon among the latter. For the past 16 years, Solomon has been manning the controls on Christmas Eve at WPRB (103.3 FM) for a 24-hour marathon of Christmas tunes.
The show got its start back in 1988 when he was still in high school. There was a big gap in the disc jockey schedule and Solomon volunteered to fill it. While the show wasn't 24 hours long in that first year, it was quite a challenge – especially for someone new to broadcasting.
"There was definitely holiday songs played," recalled Jon Solomon. "But there was also a lot of long songs played just to fill the time. It was one of the very first times that I'd done a radio show, so it was a feeling out experience. My plan was basically to go on late Christmas Eve and just stay on until the next DJ showed up in the morning."
Solomon had such a good time doing the show that it became an annual tradition. It quickly developed into a 24-hour marathon starting at 6pm on Christmas Eve and lasting until 6pm on Christmas Day. As the years have gone on, it's been easier and easier for him to find enough Christmas music to fill the show. He's found some things himself and has had tons of records submitted to him from music fans and artists themselves. The Internet has vastly helped his collection grow. Last year alone, one guy sent him 200 songs of obscure 45s that were turned into MP3s. Many of the records were ones not currently in Solomon's collection.
"The problem in the past was I had to play everything I had to fill up the 24-hours," explained Solomon. "But now I can be really selective. And if I had the stamina for it, I could certainly do a much longer radio show... But I think that 24 hours is long enough."
Through the years, the show has steadily gained new fans each holiday season. It's as much of a tradition with Jon's audience as it is with him spending the holiday at the station. Fans of his who have started families stay in touch with Jon to let him know that the entire family now listens each year.
Listeners who may have grown up in the Princeton area or went to school around here can now listen to the broadcast live on the web from anywhere in the world. And Jon's known as that "Christmas Marathon Guy." It's something that has taken on a life entirely of its own.
"I'm continually humbled by people's reactions to the show and the fact that it means something to such a large number of people year in and year out," he said. "When I started doing it, I never could have imagined it would have become what it has become. But now that it has, I take a great deal of pride in the show."
Getting through the marathon is easier than one might expect. Solomon describes it as a once a year experience for him that starts out with an easy 8-hour shift from 6pm to 2am. Between 2am and 10am is the rough ride each year. It's during this period that old friends or former DJs will drop on by – usually bringing something to eat or drink with them. It's also during this shift that he gets to spend some time with his fiancée (who comes to the station after visiting with her family on Christmas Eve.) The show has deep meaning for her as well since the couple got engaged on the air in 2003! Thankfully one of his listeners was taping the show (as many do each year) and was able to send Jon a copy.
"Usually it's not that bad," continued Solomon. "I don't really stay up for 24 hours as much as I did when I was younger, but I manage. People will phone in during the middle of the night just to make sure I'm still going and then the last handful of hours are just all adrenalin."
Jon's favorite Christmas song is an obscure track by a band from Iowa called The Law. The song, "What Did Santa Claus Bring You For Christmas?" has been on WPRB's play list for many holiday seasons. Solomon says it still ranks up there as the Christmas song most requested each year. One of the members of The Law went to Princeton and made a tape of the song and WPRB loved it. "It's just one of those really great sort of garage rock Christmas songs that would not have taken on a life of its own without WPRB," explains Solomon.
The show has largely been a success bcause there's something for everyone. Instead of solely playing rarities or just playing the most popular Christmas tunes, Solomon blends them all together. It's a recipe that has worked for over 15 years and shows no sign of slowing down. So turn on WPRB this Christmas Eve and see what all the fuss is about. Chances are, you'll start spending every holiday with Jon as well.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.