What’s a nice Jewish boy doing at the helm of a Christmas radio show?
As a restless Jewish kid growing up in Princeton, Jon Solomon never knew what to do with himself on the locked-down day of Christmas. But at 15 by then a precocious radio jockey for Princeton University’s WPRB-FM he figured it out, and he hasn’t looked back since.
This year, for the 19th consecutive time, the 33-year-old Solomon will walk into the soundproof studio at WPRB the evening of Dec. 24 and begin broadcasting his annual 24-hour Christmas show an eclectic, eccentric, ecumenical marathon of music inspired by Christmas, Hanukka, Kwaanza, New Year’s, and the snowy winter months.
From 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve to 6 p.m. on Christmas day, listeners from Newark, NJ, to Newark, Del., can tune their radios to 103.3 FM to sample some of that idiosyncratic mix “The Jingle Bells Dreidel Song” by the Lothars, for example, or “I Won’t Be Twisting This Christmas” by Father Guido Sarducci, or, for traditionalists, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” by Tiny Tim.
Over the 24 hours, Solomon will spin more than 325 holiday tunes in a program he believes is unique for its length and breadth. His 2005 playlist yielded up such rare and obscure titles as “There Ain’t No Sanity Claus” by The Damned, “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” by Allan Sherman, and “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” by Tom Lehrer. Listeners around the world can tap into the tunes.
“I’ve got no shortage of material,” Solomon said as he relaxed in his office at WPRB on the Princeton campus. “I’ve been going back through and listening to all the stuff, just trying to listen to things with fresh ears to see if there are things I’ve overlooked. I’m trying to constantly challenge myself and create the best assortment of stuff. Twenty-four hours is a long time.”
The selections range from old 78 rpm records to Christmas blues to Ladino hip-hop to contemporary punk bands to a cool kind of klezmer, according to Solomon. “It’s everything you could imagine and probably some things you couldn’t,” he said. “That’s part of the fun of this to put it all together in an order that makes sense to me.”
As he runs his 24-hour radio marathon, Solomon said, he jumps from turntable to CD player to computer to taking phone requests and back again. “I would divide it into three parts,” he said. “The first third is very chaotic and very energetic. The middle third is usually a bit more of a struggle. And the home stretch is usually good.
“The last two hours are just all adrenalin,” he said. “When the show is over, I could wrestle a bear. Then that energy just drops off an hour later and I’m dead asleep.”
For Solomon, who holds a degree in radio, television, and film from Northwestern University, running an eclectic radio show is just one facet of a very eclectic life. In addition to serving as a management consultant for WPRB and hosting a weekly Wednesday-night radio show there, he hosts Local Support at www.keepingscoreathome.com, an on-line podcast sponsored by The City Paper that showcases Philadelphia-area artists, and he writes and manages the Princeton Basketball News, a subscription Web site. In his spare time, he acts as a freelance licensing agent, advising companies that do music placements for television commercials.
Solomon’s annual Christmas show is close to his heart in another way. He proposed to his wife, Nicole, on a microphone break at 5 o’clock in the morning during his 2002 show. He and Nicole, a special education teacher at the Newgrange School in Hamilton, now live in Lawrenceville, just a short hop away from Shabbat dinners at the Princeton home of his parents, Robert and Susan Solomon.
“My folks keep kosher, and just by my being a vegetarian at this point, so do I,” he said. “I don’t consider myself that religious, but I consider myself observant. I fast on Yom Kippur and keep as many of the laws of Passover as possible. It’s definitely a very important part of who I am.”
And so is his Christmas show, which now has an audience of thousands, Solomon estimates. “As the years go on, I definitely look forward to it, and I definitely like being able to do something that people seem to take great joy out of,” he said. “It’s incredibly humbling and kind of amazing. It’s really a thing that defines me, I guess.
“I think one of the reasons I really enjoy this is that one of the general, nonreligious themes of Christmas is what I like about Judaism the shared experiences with family,” he added. “I never really expected to be so closely associated with the Christmas season, but now that the broadcasts are here, I’ve developed a following with people who like holiday music. I’ve definitely had a lot of people say to me, ‘I hate Christmas music, but I love your show.’”
That’s one of the reasons he thinks of his program as his gift to his listening audience, Solomon said.
“It’s a really big day for me and something I don’t take lightly,” he said. “I’m just very happy with it. The quality of the music and the tone of the program fit my personality well. The fact that so many people choose to make this a part of their holidays means I’ve touched people in all these different ways. I’m very lucky.”
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