Jingle all the way


Jingle all the way
Jon Solomon. Photo: Nicole Scheller.

Talking With DJ Jon Solomon About the Making of a 25-Hour Holiday Music Marathon

I’M NOT A fanatic, but I like a lotta Christmas music at Christmas, and I have complained in the past about how even if you have 20 channels of Christmas music that you pay for, on satellite radio, you end up hearing the same songs over and over.

This year’s satellite radio offerings: Largely unsatisfying.

I want my Christmas music to be like snowflakes, drifting through the air in near-infinite variety. It turns out there’s a weird answer to my needs: 25 hours of nonstop, non-repeating holiday music, emanating from New Jersey!

Every year, from Christmas Eve on into Christmas Day, longtime DJ Jon Solomon gets on the air for WPRB in Princeton, New Jersey, and stays there, playing the Marathon, an unbroken program of holiday music, holiday stories, and other holiday audio artifacts, most of it material that won't be played anywhere else. After a tip from our pal DJ Tenderloin, a Marathon contributor, we talked with veteran DJ Jon Solomon on a Zoom.

Joe MacLeod for INDIGNITY: We are here with Jon Solomon of WPRB 103.3 FM, Princeton, “New Jersey's Only Radio Station,” a community supported freeform station, which is also available at wprb.com. Jon Solomon hosts a weekly program on WPRB, but he is also responsible for an annual holiday show entitled “The Marathon,” or the “Holiday Show?”

Jon Solomon: Yeah, I mean, “25 Hour Holiday Radio Show,” “The Marathon”— I've never been good with coming up with, set names for things. Like, my weekly show has never had a name. So “25 Hour Holiday Radio Show” seems to be the best thing to call it these days.

Indignity: It all falls under the umbrella of Jon Solomon. You also just got done with your 11th annual All-Hannukah Show.

Solomon: Yeah, that was super fun, on Wednesday night.

Indignity: My buddy, DJ Tenderloin, was very excited that he made the cut with a submission. He sends out a mix every year of holiday stuff, and he told me about your 25-hour show.

Solomon: He made a really terrific piece that I was delighted to debut. I'm glad people are catching on to what he's been doing way under the radar for a while now.

Indignity: I love radio stunts. We had a guy here in Baltimore who stayed on the air while the Orioles were losing game after game after game. He stayed in the studio, and he was delirious. So my first question is, why did you feel the need to do 25 hours?

Solomon: I listened to WPRB when I was in middle school, and I really wanted to start a radio station for my high school. I ended up in 1988 getting in touch with the station manager or program director at WPRB who trained me and eventually put me on the air. Almost all of the shows were student hosted, where now it's about a 50/50 mix of student and community. Over holiday breaks, one person would be in charge of running the ship. There would be these massive signup sheets in the lobby of the station where you could just claim available times, if people were going back home to, the Midwest or California or whatever, for break. So there was a huge swath of time that was free on Christmas Eve, and I signed up for all of it, and just stayed on until the next DJ showed up in the morning.

And the following year, I was like, "Can I try and do 24 hours?", and I think the students were delighted that they didn't have to worry about Christmas Eve and Christmas, and then just kind of kept going from there. In the early years, it was a lot of playing records from WPRB’s crate of Christmas records, combined with just the longest songs that I knew of, just to get across the finish line. As the show became more and more, for lack of a better word, “Christmassy” over the years, I started to find my own things, or people would hear it one year and then send in their recordings. Then, you know, the advent of the internet, it became a lot easier for people who had either digitized things I had never heard of before, or folks who were—really much more so than any other music community I've been involved in—willing to share what they had.

Indignity: And in a lot of cases, what they created.

Solomon: Yeah, I think initially it was more, people digitizing their collections or their finds. And then it became, from there, people recording things that they would pass my way.

Indignity: We're not talking “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Rock” and “O Tannenbaum,” these songs are different.

Solomon: I think of it now as, I liked the songs as songs first, if that makes sense. And then the fact that they happen to fit under this constraint of holiday music. It's not as limiting as it was, but, there's Commie Francis, a DJ on WPRB that does a thematic show where it's like, she can do “Hey, here's two hours of songs about light bulbs” or “Here's two hours of songs about thumbtacks,” every week, and it's crazy and super inspiring. Christmas music or holiday music is a bit of a wider umbrella. But it is sort of fun to play with that limitation. And think to myself, does this song make sense for the show, is this Christmassy enough? I spent a lot of time kind of considering the material that I'm reviewing. Ultimately, 25 hours is a lot of time, but it goes by very quickly, and there's so many sort of traditions to the show that happen every year, it's not as daunting as it once was to put together.

Indignity: You've got years of experience under your belt.

Solomon: Yeah, also—sorry, I think the green tea I had is just kicking in—if I was playing the same stuff, every year from jump, I wouldn't get the same excitement out of putting together a show each year. But last year, basically from when I went on the air until maybe around 3 or 4 a.m,. with a couple exceptions, was all stuff I hadn't played before, and that's super exciting for me to drop a new favorite for someone that they've never heard before, like out of the blue and startle and amaze that way. That's really thrilling to me.

Indignity:  Okay, so there's a couple of examples of songs, such as “Jerry That Christmas Snail,” and a version of “Little Drummer Boy,” by Lindstrom, and a Ramones set.

Solomon: Okay, let me work backwards here. The Ramones set just came over collecting over time, and then suddenly realizing, oh, I think I have enough of these to do a full set, and then the question was, when do I play that? My friend Liz was like, “Well, every Ramones song starts '1-2-3-4,' you gotta do the set at 12:34 a.m.” Last year, there was actually enough Ramones-inspired stuff that I could do it at 12:34 a.m. and p.m., but now I'm thinking for this year, that might be a little much.

There's a Misfits-inspired set that's kind of the exact same thing. I mean, as someone who grew up loving punk rock, hearing different songs reinterpreted as Christmas songs, there are a couple of groups that do it really well.

I have a whole set that I can do of all Black Sabbath–inspired stuff, or connected to the Beastie Boys, or connected to the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, or this year, I think I finally have enough to do a New Order–, Joy Division–inspired thing. I'm hoping that'll be the sort of thing where no one's going to see that one coming. Or The Fall, of course, and then two years ago, a listener recorded the entirety of the album Hex Enduction Hour by The Fall with Christmas versions of every single song on that record.

Indignity: Gadzooks!

Solomon: I have trouble keeping secrets as far as the Marathon goes, but that was one where I was like, I'm just gonna keep this card up my sleeve. And after the all-Fall set, I'm gonna drop that on people's heads. I think I played it off like, Oh, well, there weren't any new Fall contributions this year, alas, alack. And then, boom. That person just sent me their submissions for this year, and they have done something similar, but different, that I cannot wait for people to hear, because they've reworked four songs by a band that I don't think anyone ever thought they could do Christmas renditions of.

The other two traditions that you mentioned, sort of go back to back around like 10 or 11 a.m., on Christmas proper. Snaildartha: The Story of Jerry, the Christmas Snail, got sent to me randomly in 2009. I played it, and people loved it, and then insisted that they hear it again every year. There have been folks that have said, like, it's not Christmas until I hear The Story of Jerry, and people send me photos of snails on their Christmas trees. These things take on a life of their own that I never could have expected.

The Lindstrom thing is the exact same way. I don’t look at them every year, but a couple of years ago when I could look at the hour-by-hour live streaming stats for the show, the most online listeners during the entire Marathon would peak around 10 a.m. to noon. You’ve got the West Coast, Europe and other international listeners, and you have everyone in the Midwest and out East, up and startin’ Christmas, so, I never would have imagined that Snaildartha and Lindstrom would be the signature one-two of the Marathon. But it's also, personally, not only do I enjoy hearing those pieces, but it's a really great time to, regroup and start thinking about the last six hours of the show.

Indignity: Because the Lindstrom “Little Drummer Boy” is 40 minutes long?!?

Solomon: Yeah, I mean, but listening to it on headphones, and getting lost in it, it's an experience. I remember my friend Maura and my friend Susan, at some point in the last four years, they were like, going to jump on a Zoom, not dissimilar from what you and I are doing now, and just, “We're going to listen to Lindstrom together in silence,” and so they just like, sat on the Zoom for 40-plus minutes, bobbing their heads and getting into it.

Indignity: Also, “Jingle Rock Bell?”

Solomon: Yeah, by Ps. Tail, Esq. I don't know where I found that one, but it's a guy, kind of extemporaneously, getting every word in “Jingle Bell Rock” wrong. So it's just like “bell rock, jingle rock, bell, rock, bell,” like that. Two incredible things about that, one was, I had been playing it for years, and then it turned out that the guy who made it was a listener, and I didn't know that, and he saw it written up, I think I recommended some pieces for The Philadelphia Inquirer or something like that, and he was like, “Hey, that's my song,” and I was like, "What? Ps. Tail, Esq., you've been out there this whole time?” Then there's a guy named Dan out in Oklahoma who does a 100-day countdown for the Marathon online, reposts a different song from past years every day, and he came up with a karaoke version of "Jingle Rock Bell"—each item is flashing on the screen. And my wife and I gathered around the computer and we tried to do it, and it was just: can't do it, but I was so delighted that he took the time to make that.

Indignity: You have developed this amazing community behind this event, and you have stories.

Solomon: Yeah, I wish I had a better way to describe them than “Christmas stories.” I think originally, I was just like, Hey, talented friends, whatta ya got? Some of them did return original stories. But now it's kind of the definition of that is very loose. And so each year, probably once an hour, if not more, I'll premiere something that a person recorded to debut on the Marathon. Some of them are original songs, and some of them are covers, and some of them are stories, and some of them are sound collages, and some of them are, I don't even know how to describe. It's been one of those things that kept the show fresh for me, because, selfishly, I just never want to feel like this is a chore or a burden for me. I want this to be exciting on both sides of the microphone, so to get to have this cornucopia of things people have done, sometimes not knowing something is coming, and then getting it and being floored by it, being able to share that stuff with the listening audience is a real privilege.

Indignity: Have you ever just not wanted to do it? Have you ever just felt like, Why? You know, I can't?

Solomon: Every day, starting a couple days ago, until like the 26th—I guess not the 25th because I won't be sleeping—but basically, I wake up every day kind of feeling like, Oh, I feel very overwhelmed, and then by about lunchtime, when I'm caught up on listening and constantly bookmarking things and looking at Christmas music blogs I subscribe to with the understanding that I'm never gonna hear it all, trying to cover as many bases as possible, yeah, it's, very overwhelming, but at the same time, hopefully, the systems that I have put in place for prep make the show itself go easier and the effort that I'm putting in now will pay off on the 24th and 25th. I'm actually one record away from being caught up again, which is exciting. Let's see what's been good. A family in Brooklyn has formed like a metal band called Buried in Coal. I listened to that record today and liked a bunch of stuff off it.

Honestly, being able to host the show from home the last three years has been hugely helpful, because, well, first of all, we have windows, and WPRB doesn't. Seeing the sun come up is invigorating, and having my family to play off of is also really nice and so they'll sleep downstairs, they're one room over, listening the whole time, as they're drifting off. So it's like having— I don't need an audience—but having a built-in audience is very nice. Also, WPRB is not the cleanest place in the world, air circulation–wise and all that, and lifting heavy crates of records and CDs, and lugging them into the station, and then having to run down the hall to use the bathroom, all of that went away when I was able to do the Marathon from home for the first time in December of 2020. So, that was one of my first requests: “Guys, I'm happy to do my show from here every Wednesday, but can I please do the Marathon from home?”  Everyone was like, “Oh, yeah, of course.”

It’s an unexpected silver lining of COVID, and lockdown, I finally got to be with my family on Christmas.

The 2023 edition of Jon Solomon’s 2023 Holiday Radio Show on 103.3-FM WPRB will start on Sunday, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, at 5 p.m. ET and go straight on until Monday, Dec. 25, Christmas Day, at 6  p.m. ET. Jon has merch at Teepublic: Albums, t-shirts, pillows, even.


New York City, December 18, 2023

★★ The sunrise gradually turned the soggy, wind-lashed night into someting the color of dark new blue jeans. Over the course of half an hour, the jeans faded to dull gray-blue. Rain streamed down the windows and fell on the crew emptying the bagged-up contents of an apartment into two junk-hauling trucks. By two the rain had stopped and a few spots of blue were racing along amid the gray. Arriving sun and a gust of wind made the dead brown leaves on the red oak across the street flash like copper. The sky blew clear; 15 minutes past sundown, it was brighter than it had been 15 minutes after sunup.


Indignity Morning Podcast No. 185: It'd be nice to let them have a little reunion.

Tom Scocca • Dec 19, 2023


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of select sandwiches from The Modern Cook Book and Household Recipes, revised and edited by Lily Haxworth Wallace, Lecturer on Foods, Contributor to the "National Food Magazine," Etc., Published in 1912. This book is in the Public Domain and available at archive.org for the delectation of all.

Supper Sandwiches
Get half a pound of cold boiled ham or tongue; chop it fine, and put it into a basin with a tablespoonful of chopped pickles, a teaspoonful of mustard, and a little pepper. Put about 6 ounces of butter in a basin, and stir it quickly with a spoon till it forms a kind of cream; add the chopped meat and seasoning, and mix all thoroughly. Cut some bread into thin slices, and some very thin slices of veal, fowl, or game; spread a slice of the bread with the above mixture, then a slice of the meat; lay on another slice of bread, and so on, till the quantity required is prepared. If cut into small shapes, these sandwiches prove very acceptable for breakfast or for evening parties. The above quantities will make as many sandwiches as will fill a moderate-sized dish.

Italian Sandwiches
Beat up the yolk of an egg with nearly a quarter of a pint of cold water, and make with it into a stiff paste a quarter of a pound of flour, into which 2 ounces of good butter have been rubbed, 1 1/2 ounces of sifted sugar, and a little cinnamon. Put this paste on a board and roll it out very thin (it should not be quite a quarter of an inch thick), divide it into strips an inch in width, and from 3 to 4 inches in length. These strips must be first hardened. Put them in a cool, well-ventilated place. In the meantime prepare the following mixture: Beat the whites of 3 eggs to a firm froth, with 2 ounces of powdered loaf sugar. Blanch and pound 2 ounces of sweet and 12 bitter almonds, mix them with the egg-froth until it is a soft, smooth paste, when spread half the strips of paste with the mixture, and cover with the other half. Bake a pale brown. Time, eighteen minutes to bake.

Irish Sandwiches
Cut the meat in very thin slices from partridges, grouse, or any game that has been roasted, and shred some celery. Lay the meat on delicately thin, fresh toast — it should be crisp, and not tough; strew celery over and season well with tartare sauce. Serve in squares, and on a napkin.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to indignity@indignity.net.

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The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for Holiday gift-giving and personal perusal!

U.S. Postal Service media mail delivery takes an estimated 4 to 8 business days, which means from here on out it will be a gamble against the calendar.

For adrenaline junkies and/or Eastern Orthodox shoppers, the author stands ready to hand-fulfill orders as they come in, even at the cost of dealing with that one clerk at the neighborhood post office whose whole thing is trying to start a fight with everyone who steps up to her window. Happy holidays!

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

FLAMING HYDRA will launch in January of 2024. The FLAMING HYDRA Holiday Preview Spectacular, a rich sampling of the writing and art you’ll enjoy as a subscriber to the forthcoming daily newsletter, is available now for your inspection. FLAMING HYDRA is the work of 60 world-class talents, but that’s just one reason to subscribe. FLAMING HYDRA is a 100% cooperatively owned, ad-free publication with no owners and no investors; just a bunch of writers and artists working together and splitting the proceeds equally.

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