As a cable TV subscriber in Central PA during the ‘80s, we were a household that received WPIX out of New York City. Two holiday traditions that I still hold to this day are directly related to watching that channel as a kid.
The first is watching Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers (aka Babes in Toyland) on Thanksgiving Day. Since moving to the South many years ago, I usually had to dust off my VHS copy (now DVD) each year to hold the turkey day tradition.
The second tradition is seamlessly intertwined with my memories of opening presents on Christmas morning: watching the WPIX Yule Log. Granted, turning on the TV was never my first priority when I woke up, but its warm cathode ray glow and classical Christmas accompaniment always seemed to find me among the mountains of wrapping paper. And even though it seemed silly to me as a kid, the Yule Log remains a big part of my Christmas experience.
I knew a little bit about how it all got started, but I decided to dig a little deeper, past my experience in the '80s. Here are several things you might not know about the original (and often imitated) WPIX Yule Log:
The Yule Log was first broadcast in 1966
Inspired by a Coca-Cola commercial, WPIX president Fred M. “Flame” Thrower (okay, I added the “flame” nickname) decided to give New York City apartment dwellers the gift of a fireplace.
The inaugural Yule Log program cost the TV station $28,773.95 in ad revenue (adjusted for inflation)
It was originally broadcast on Christmas Eve instead of a scheduled roller derby program.
An antique rug was ruined by a stray spark when producers removed the grate to improve the view of the fire
The rug was valued at $4000 in 1966 which adjusted, is the same $28,773.95 of ad revenue that was lost by the station.
The original program was filmed at Gracie Mansion, the residence of the Mayor of New York City
John Lindsay was mayor at the time.
The original film loop was only 17 seconds long
With the 15mm film deteriorating after just 3 years, a new loop was filmed in 1970 that lasted approximately 6 minutes.
The new 1970 version of The Yule Log was filmed in August at a residence in California
After the mayor was unreceptive to do a reshoot (see fact #3 above), WPIX chose a California home due to its similar andiron (the fire wood holder thingy).
The Yule Log was broadcast for 23 consecutive years through 1989
WPIX General Manager Michael Eigner (aka Frank Shirley) decided to cancel the program in 1990 due to its lack of ad revenue. Many viewers protested the decision and exclaimed (in essence) “of all the cheap lousy ways to save a buck”.
A website named “Bring Back the Log” was created in 2000 as a petition to rebroadcast the program
Joseph Malzone created the site, now named TheYuleLog.com and currently administered by Lawrence F. “Chip” Arcuri (not recommended for “dial up users”) (their words).
The events of September 11 helped bring back The Yule Log after 11 years
During a local radio interview announcing its return, WPIX VP/General Manager Betty Berlamino explained that viewers needed “comfort food TV” after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Yule Log’s triumphant return on Christmas day in 2001 attracted 611,000 viewers in New York City, which was 80,000 more than ABC’s Good Morning America.
After its cancellation in 1989, the original master film of the 1970 Yule Log was misfiled in a Honeymooners episode film can
Program Director Julie O’Neil found the reel labeled as the A Dog’s Life episode, which is why the 40th anniversary Yule Log documentary film is titled A Log’s Life.
The first appearance of The Yule Log in a movie was 1990
The Oscar-nominated film Metropolitan featured a New Yorker watching The Yule Log program on his TV.
The program was first syndicated in 2004
Chicago’s WGN became the first station to broadcast the program nationally. In 2008, WGN broadcast its own version of the program but decided to change back to the WPIX version the next year.
The broadcast was extended by an hour in 2009
The new 4th hour included 23 new songs by 9 artists. 7 of the artists had never appeared before on the broadcast, one of which amazingly was Bing Crosby.
93 songs make up the entire 4-hour broadcast
14 of the songs are performed by Percy Faith and his orchestra including the first ("Joy to the World") and the last ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"). The song most repeated on the soundtrack is "Silent Night" (5 times.)
During its initial run from 1966-89, the audio track from The Yule Log was simulcast on the radio
In 2015, Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky sponsored a Nick Offerman Yule Log
In the 45-minute video, the actor sits comfortably in front of a fireplace drinking without saying a word.
For us plasma pyromaniacs, WPIX continues the tradition to this day by airing the original program on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. For a complete listing, visit TheYuleLog.com website. And for those of us who can’t wait or live outside of the WPIX area, you can stream the Fireplace for Your Home knock-off on Netflix or tune in to the Antenna TV channel on Christmas Day.
(I originally wrote this article for UnderScoopFire and is being republished here with permission.)