The WPIX Yule Log
WPIX is a New York TV station with a long rich history going back to 1948. Like a lot of independent stations, they've had their share of local sports and Three Stooges frolics, but in 1966 they started a tradition that put them on the map; The WPIX Yule Log.
Canceling $4000 worth of advertising on Christmas Eve 1966, WPIX broadcast a jumpy 17 second film loop of a roaring fireplace accompanied by several hours of "easy listening" holiday music (borrowed from the radio station owned by the same company). There were no ads, no announcers - it was WPIX's Christmas gift to their viewers so they could enjoy the warm orange glow (or gray if you didn't have a color set yet...) of a roaring fireplace.
The broadcast was a massive success that became a New York tradition for the next 23 years. WPIX even staged a reshoot of the fire footage in 1969 to create a longer loop on lovely 35mm film. Despite its popularity, management extinguished the Yule Log in 1990, no longer willing to miss out on a Christmas Eve full of lucrative advertising. They offered a version on the internet in 1997, but it seemed that the annual TV holiday fire had gone out forever.
In the low spirits of December 2001, New Yorkers were warmed by the return of the Yule Log to the airwaves, thanks to the efforts of Joseph Malzone and his friends at theyulelog.com. The six minute Yule Log loop was unearthed from the film archive (it was misfiled as The Honeymooners episode "A Dog's Life"), digitally restored, and has resumed its place as the most watched Christmas TV program in New York. Even the music is identical to the original broadcast - some of the tunes have never been available on CD, so many have been remastered from LP's!
Other stations now simulcast the Yule Log (you can find it on WGN Superstation nationwide in the US) - some even in HD. There is a downloadable "Portable Yule Log" and the special's 40th anniversary last year was marked with an hour long retrospective "It's a Log's Life" (taken from The Honeymooners episode title above).
Today's TV landscape is a very competitive one, with the technology bar constantly rising. Isn't it charming that something this simple can become a cherished tradition - one that even the writer's strike can't ruin? Old time broadcasters talk about television being an honored guest in people's living rooms, and the Yule Log makes a welcome change from the usual cacophony of commercial TV this time of year. I find it heartening that for one night, at least one station can find it in its heart to give a video gift just for the sake of giving it.