“It’s Christmastime, 1984….”. That is what is emanating from the stereo as I’m writing this month’s article. On the turntable (yes, of course I have a working turntable in the living room) is a Christmas special – A Gospel Christmas – hosted by the late Paul Heil of The Gospel Greats, a popular syndicated radio program in the southern gospel industry. I am looking forward to sharing this entire two-hour special on WBTX in mid-December. The last time this particular program was heard on WBTX was…well, back in 1984 I’d suppose.
December brings about Christmas music at WBTX. As per tradition, we always wait until after Thanksgiving, and then we unleash perhaps the best collection of Christmas music you’ll find in the Valley. Yes, plenty of southern gospel, but also a bit of inspirational/choral, bluegrass, and even classic country.
This does mean I have to step away from my ‘wall’ of 1,000+ records for a month and focus on a much smaller collection of Christmas LPs (about 50 or so). This collection, albeit small, is not lacking; it’s fairly complete as, like we discussed in last year’s Christmas article, southern gospel Christmas albums did not really ‘take off’ until the introduction of CDs in the mid-to-late eighties. Particularly in the sixties and seventies, it was difficult for many groups to justify spending a ton of money to produce an album that, in actuality, they would only be able to market two or three months of the year. The bulk of this collection comes from the archives of WEMC, a station that, for many years, broadcasted from Astral Hall on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. The studio is now defunct, but the building still houses a collection of 2,000+ LPs (many of which are Contemporary Christian). I had the wonderful opportunity to transfer about 200 of these albums into the archives of WBTX. After sitting virtually untouched for nearly thirty years, they are once again being played and carefully maintained. The WEMC archives provide plenty of Christmas selections from artists like Evie, the Lundstroms, the Norman Luboff Choir, Doug Oldham, the Inspirations, the Maranatha Singers and more. When it comes to Christmas selections, I particularly enjoy original songs, whether it be the Bill Gaither Trio’s “He Started The Whole World Singing”, the Hinsons “That’s How Christmas Came To Be”, Squire Parsons “A Night To Be Remembered” or the Spencers “Home And Christmas”.
As for the time-tested Christmas carols, there are many interesting medleys to be found, blending two, three, or even four carols into one piece. A good number may be found on albums from the aforementioned Bill Gaither Trio, but also the Talleys had unique arrangements on their A Family Christmas recording.
So be listening for what WBTX bills as the best selection of Christmas music throughout the Valley. Alongside these classic southern gospel LPs, we have a number of inspirational projects, plus country albums from artists like the Oak Ridge Boys, Kathy Mattea, Anne Murray, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton. Also of note, Jim Snavely has a number of Shenandoah Bluegrass Christmas programs in store as well.
As per tradition, we will also broadcast Handel’s “Messiah” in full, uncut, on Christmas Day, beginning at 2:00pm.
Next month, we’ll ring in the new year with a two-part series chronicling the history of one of southern gospel’s most loved mixed groups – the Nelons. We’ll trace their origins back to the LeFevres, then explore their years as the Rex Nelon Singers, and follow their career to the present day.
Have a blessed Christmas season!