Jon Solomon: Quirky Carols
For Jon Solomon (C95), Christmas starts at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24. That’s when he begins his “Annual 24-Hour Holiday Radio Show” on WPRB-FM radio in Princeton, N.J. Solomon’s been participating in the sleepless ritual since he was 15.
“During holiday breaks, when the students went away at WPRB [Princeton University’s student-run, nonprofit, commercial radio station], people would sign up for these open time slots. There was a very large amount of time available on Christmas Eve in 1988, and I decided I would just keep going until the next DJ showed up [12 hours later],” Solomon recalls. “The next year, I wanted to see if could do 24 hours.” The station managers were certainly happy to have someone to fill a difficult time slot, “and an accidental tradition was born.”
While the marathon turned into an annual gig, it didn’t lead to a full-time career. Solomon hosts a rock show on WPRB every Wednesday during the year, but he works several other jobs. In the winter, he covers the Princeton Tigers basketball team for a subscriber-only website he launched in 1997. Solomon also runs an independent music label, Comedy Minus One, that produces post-punk, and he writes for various publications, while living in Lawrenceville, N.J.
Solomon has only skipped one Christmas marathon, in 1995. He had just finished classes at Northwestern and decided to take a long road trip — to watch the Wildcats play in the Rose Bowl. He missed doing the music marathon, and that convinced him to keep doing the annual show.
“If I had not had that experience of driving to California and being in Nebraska on Christmas Day and realizing how much I really missed it, I’m not sure I’d still be doing the program now,” Solomon says.
Solomon, who is Jewish, has made the program a family affair for nearly a decade. In 2002, he proposed to his wife Nicole on the air, and in 2008, he brought his infant daughter, Maggie, to the studio for her first Christmas. Every year Nicole and Maggie visit the studio and then listen to the remainder of the show while celebrating Christmas at Nicole’s family’s home.
You’re not likely to hear Bing Crosby or Andy Williams — or Adam Sandler’s “Hannukah Song,” for that matter — on this holiday marathon. A proud former DJ at WNUR-FM (Northwestern’s student-run radio station dedicated to non-mainstream music), Solomon focuses on rarely heard songs, such as “All I Got Were Clothes for Christmas” or “Holiday Hissy Fit.” (AUDIO: Check out Ryan Morton's 2010 interview with Jon Solomon, including samples from some of his holiday favorites.)
“I'm always interested in unique reinterpretations of things that you might have only heard one or two versions of traditionally,” Solomon explains. “I’m also fascinated by historical oddities, things that make no sense now or are completely out of date five or 10 years down the road.”
Each year Solomon plays about 300 songs, but his collection includes more than 6,000 songs — more than 3,000 MP3s on his computer, eight crates of CDs and two big boxes of LPs. He previews songs throughout the year, but really starts to plan for the show beginning in September. Most of the songs are related to Christmas, though there are some for Hannukah and others just dedicated to winter.
“I try not to repeat individual songs [from year to year], but a lot of the program is based on listener requests, favorites that people know they’re not going to hear anywhere else,” Solomon says, “or things that people have been curious about that they know I’m going to be the person who can play it for them.”
Tune in to this year’s marathon online at www.wprb.com or, if you’re in the Delaware Valley, by listening to 103.3 FM. Listeners can interact by calling, emailing, tweeting or using Facebook during the show. You can send Solomon your favorite quirky holiday songs or check his playlist on his blog, "Keeping Score at Home."