I've been tinkering with electricity and electronics since I was around 13. I'm guessing the initial interest came about after being electrically shocked because I didn't know you couldn't stick a butter knife into a toaster in order to get the stuck toast out when it was burning. Or it was the result of receiving and assembling a toy kit am radio transmitter I received for Christmas. I don't know why, but I'll never forget that 50' piece of wire with those strange looking insulators that I hung from my upstairs bedroom window. It wasn't long after that, when a neighborhood friend and I pretended to be disc jockies and broadcast music to the neighborhood. Next item that had an influence on me was the Popular Electronics article that had a schematic on how to build a electonic contraption called a color organ. I was always going to build one but just never got around to it. For those wondering what an electronic color organ is, it was a device that took its input from your stereo via a cable attached to the rca output jacks. The color organ had three 110 volt outlets that would allow you to attach colored lights. This device would than modulate the signal to the colored lights based on the frequency and intensity of the music coming from your stereo. It was typically a "three channel" device. So you would attach some red lights to the low frequency side, some green lights to the medium frequency side, and finally some blue lights to the high frequency side. Put in your favorite music and you could then watch the lights flash and flicker based on the music you were playing. This was the first thing I thought about when I discovered syncronized Christmas music.
Your childhood has a huge influence on your lifes path. When I was a kid my Mom and Dad would take us kids out at night, driving through the neighborhoods to ooh and ah at all the other peoples homes that would be decorated with lights. It was true family time. Of course it was mom who was the Christmas fanatic back in the early 1960's. She always decorated to the 9's. Once I was old enough, it was me that climbed the 14' ladder to hang the lights on the eves.
And yes, we won more than our share of the Three Rivers city "static" Christmas light contests.
Now we enter the 21st century. Hook your computer up to some technologically advanced channel controllers from "Light-O-Rama" and your favorite MP3 music and Voila, a fancy color organ. If only Mom and Dad were here today to see them.
I'm not sure who gets the credit for where we are today. I do know that Clark Griswold was not the inventor since that was in 1989. And I know that Danny Devitos "Deck the Halls" house could be seen from outer space but that movie wasn't made until 2006. A google search has not produced definitive results yet. Chuck Smith who was an electrical engineer of sorts and avid Christmas lighting nut, who had displays that people would drive to see from far and near, appears to have been the first, when he used his apple computer in 1983 to control christmas lights. He also had what appears to be the first Christmas based website founded in the early days of the internet. Drew Hickman of Holiday Technologies, has been in the light display business since 1996, creating the very first commercially available hardware (ChristmasCave*) and software (Dasher*) products for music-synchronized displays.
Carson Williams should receive some credit as he posted a video on PlanetChristmas.com and asked for comments. Because of server overloading the video was moved to the new website, youtube.com and the video soon went viral. This was in 2005. And of course much of this is mute without mentioning Dan Baldwin founder and CEO of Light O Rama. The Lightorama.com website url was registered with GoDaddy and reserved in what appears to be June of 2002. Their website had the first LightORama controller (whose LOR1602W model is still made today) shown on their website in September of 2002. His company produces the majority of controllers presently used for synchronized light shows as well as the Showtime software used in conjunction with the controllers for synchronizing the lights to the music.
So these are the guys I've discovered that deserve credit for starting the synchronized christmas lighting craze. After I saw Carson's video, I too said, "my time has come for synchronized lighting". And the rest is history.
As explained I take the credit for most of the outside display. Kathy has the artistic ability for making the inside of the house take on the Christmas spirit. And I love what she does.
Of course, more lights and more controllers. Stay tuned.
Update 1-06-08......The bug has me. My two new Light-O-Rama controller kits just arrived. Just plugged the soldering iron in and it should be hot in a couple of days.
Update 2009......Three more controllers were added. 16 Mini trees. Oak trees (ie firesticks)
Update 2010...... Five more controllers were added, Mega tree added.
Update 2011......Two more controllers were added.
Update 2012......Three more controllers were added but not built or installed yet. Mega tree mini lights replaced with Led strings. Lights for white spiral tree effects purchased but haven't been put up yet. Walnut trees (firesticks) added.
Update 2014...... Due to the destruction of the Mega tree in last years ice storm I have removed the huge oak tree that was over hanging the mega tree as well as increasing it's size from 20' to 24' and 4 additional foot of circumference.
Update 2015......Two more controllers were assembled.
Update 2016......Two more controllers were assembled. Pine tree and Twirling Candy canes.
Update 2017......Two more controllers were assembled. Future Talking Tree and Rudolph.
Total controllers now at 22 - total of 352 channels.
Also purchased two sets (200 pixels) during spring sale. Future use.
Update 2018/2019......Talking Tree which utilizes rgb pixel lights and controllers.
A pair of rgb tapes and controllers, more male and female vampire plugs. A DC controller board and floods.
Total controllers now at 25 - total of 400 channels.
Since it's getting too hard to program all of the controllers this is most likely the limit.
OMG. I'm out of control. I bought a blowup Frosty, blowups - something I said I would never buy!
Update 2020......Contrary to what I've previously written. I have been making progress on some of my past 'todos'. There were some new lights added this year. I've had to replace a couple of the triacs in controllers. The antenna star that has been up for 10 years has now been taken down and I've replaced the led strings. Decided to enhance it a bit and ordered some "raining" icicyles. They should arrive shortly. 3 of the 5 fake trees purchased at the end of last year are up with red lights only. Still trying to fight the cold to put the last two up. I have also finally put up the 4 vertical strings of blue led's purchased a while back. I have setup up the RGB floods and experimenting with how they will be sequenced in the songs. Looks like I have to install the new version of software to get the singing tree functioning. Working on that project currently. AND FINALLY! Drum roll please! Frosty is now an official venue addition. He's getting quite a few laughs. I recently placed the candy lollipops around the front of him. He is still in the protype stage however.
Update 2021......So all 5 fake trees are up this year. Now if I can get the lights on... New Arches are nearly complete. Will I be able to get them built into the new sequences this year - time will tell.
The Beginning to the End:
My first synchronized Christmas display was put together in 2008, with an order to Ramsey Electronics for their FM30B transmitter kit - a low power FM transmitter that allows me to send the music over the air to your car radio. Soldering this kit together was definitly a challenge to my soldering skills. This was then followed by an order to Light-O-Rama for a 16 channel controller.
Ever since I built our house in 1977/1978, I've been lighting it up pretty much the same way. Red/Green lights around the borders of the roof lines. So it was just a matter of modifing my scheme to handle mutliple strings instead of my alternating red/green bulb scheme. I still believe I started this color scheme because I had never seen it previously. I already have tons of lights. When Franks Nursery closed down I must have bought 50 boxes of lights that have been sitting in the attic just waiting for the year to start automating.
So my christmas presents arrived the day before my 5 day Thanksgiving holiday began. Once my wife went to bed I immediatly opened up my presents and fired up the soldering iron which I haven't used for ages. I had the transmitter pretty much completed in two nights. I powered it up on the third day only to discover that the display wouldn't light. I called Ramsey Electronics but they gave me the answer I pretty much expected. You just need to keep looking, you either put in the wrong component, have a cold solder joint, or missed one was pretty much what was said. (Not to imply anything bad because I was told I could send it in to them for a small fee) Here it is almost time to light them up and I need to send it off for fixing with a two week turn around time. Not much of an option. So I said to myself, must be a cold joint. It's been a long time since I built my Heathkit oscilliscope. Hence lots of soldering. It worked right off the bat. The only other option was that I fried something. I was already to pack it up and send it back and pay the extra charges for finding my error when I decided I would try it even though the display didn't work. Amazing! It was actually putting out a signal. So now it's running waiting till Christmas is over. My hope was that it would still be under warranty. It's broadcasting on 100.1 and I must say I'm very, very happy with its clarity and signal strength. I started out using the stock antenna that was part of the package but have since switched to a outdoor homemade dipole attenna tuned to my frequency 100.1.
So now the FM transmiiter is working. Time for the lights. As I said earlier I've used the red/green combination of lights for years so all I had to do this year was change out all of the alternating red/green bulbs with two strings. One red and one green. Overlapping them when nailing them to the house was a little tougher this year. And of course it turned cold before I got them all up. The sides of the house are still alternating red/green, always on, but that won't be a problem next year when I have a couple of more controllers.
Next came the controller. Not much to do here. I've had chrismtas stuff stolen in past years so I was somewhat concerned about putting my controller out in the yard which would have allowed shortening some of my cords. However, once I drilled a 2 1/2 inch hole in the side of the garage, that allowed the controller to be installed inside the garage. I initially thought I had a ton of extension cords. But I was wrong. I had to buy eight more. I color coded the installation which allows for easier installation and troubleshooting. I just bought 4 more 40' today since they were brown, a color I didn't have. I'm actually thinking of buying 4 more. I also bought 2 - 1000 foot spools of 16 gauge lamp cord with some pretty heavy insulation. Not the best, or recommended for use, but for a months worth of light use, I feel it'll work very well and safely. I was also using the lamp cord for the lighted ornaments hanging in the trees. I wonder if I should put up some signs saying keep out of the yard or you'll get electrocuted. But honestly, I feel I have a very safe installation. Well, maybe a tripping hazard.
Sequencing my first musical was next and the most montonious. It took close to 6 hours and I still need to modify it somewhat. The software Light-O-Rama sells works pretty good. Having 35 years of computer experience allows me to critique software and like any canned software there are improvements I wish they would make. But I'm happy with it.
I'm even happier now that I discovered the LORSequences.com website. I discovered they have posted submissions by authors of sequences and I truely thank the contributors. Eventually it will save me some time as I will just have to modify them versus do them from scratch. I have the music already.
It's been fun. I can't help it when I get home from work and stop in front of the house just to ooh and ah.
Load the kids up in the car and swing by. I'm sure they'll enjoy it.
And last, but certainly not least,
Remember the Reason for the Season!.