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The Yule Log

by Joe Malzone

Well, it started like this.

People in the New York metropolitan area always had a special treat on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. As special as the holidays are, there was a TV station in NYC that truly made it even more special.

WPIX, Channel 11 in New York, began the tradition of a televised Yule Log back in 1966. Fred Thrower, the station's general manager at the time, had a real flair for Christmas. Fireplaces, a symbol of warmth and holiday cheer, were hard to come by in the city. Since NYC was crowded with apartments, he thought about the many people who wouldn't be able to cherish the joyful experience that a Christmas fireplace brings.

With that in mind, he devised the idea of a televised fireplace - the Yule Log. This image would burn continuously and be accompanied by beautiful Christmas carols. From 1966 to 1989 this was a tradition as closely linked to New York City as the tree at Rockefeller Center or the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

In 1989 the station decided to extinguish the log for good due to (what else?) financial reasons. This left many in the metropolitan area heartbroken. Every year, people would look for the program to return - but it didn't.

In December, 2000, right after Christmas, I'd had enough! It would have been next to impossible to create a paper petition to bring the program back, so since WPIX decided to change with the times, I decided to do the same thing - and created a web site. "Bring Back The Log" was created back in February of 2001, a way for me to find out exactly how many people were longing for this tradition to be returned.

The amount of hits I got was tremendous. I was getting letters from people all over the country saying they grew up with the Yule Log and badly wanted to see its return. I posted the history of the program along with an email address to send comments and warm memories to.

Along with that, I also had a link to WPIX's programming feedback link and urged people to send email to myself and directly to WPIX. Along the way, the site caught the attention of Tom Vinciguerra of the New York Times.

So, with the help of this web site, the thousands of people who emailed, my wonderful friend Billy at TVparty (whom, incidentally, I ran this idea past in its infancy and he said it was a great idea!) and the New York Times, WPIX decided it was a good time to reinstate the Yule Log on Christmas morning 2001 at 8:00 AM.

The Yule Log was a ratings hit in 2001 - attracting 611,000 viewers between 8 and 10 a.m. on Christmas day, beating ABC's Good Morning America by almost 80,000 viewers.

Expanded to four hours in 2002, The Yule Log has won its timeslot each year since returning and was seen nationally in 2004 on Superstation WGN beginning Christmas Eve at 1:30 a.m. EST.

In December 2006, to commemorate the program's 40th anniversary, WPIX broadcast a one-hour special about its history. Titled A Log's Life, the documentary included commentary by Fred Thrower's son Mitch, Bill Cooper's widow Kay, and Joe Malzone who wrote this article.

"I'm from a family of 11 children from the '60s. We never had too much to look forward to as far as gifts for X-mas but we did look forward to the Yule Log. It was sooo special!!!

"My father worked 3 jobs and when he came home for X-mas eve after shopping at the midnight madness sale at the old Rockaway Sales, the Yule Log was sooo wonderful.

"It doesn't take much to appreciate the small classic tunes that played all the way through Christmas... what great menories and a treat it was!

"Yes, March of the Wooden Soldiers was another treat as well, as mom cooked the turkey, we kids were busy with our toys and the March of the Wooden Soldiers movies. We were happy and out of her hair for a while. Also, being from a Irish family of 11, the St. Pattys Day Parade always a grand tradition.

"So many memories of WPIX, I'm thankful you're remembering them too... wholesome, simple and happy memories that are cherished by us all.

"Cheers to you - soon there may be no more classics and simple treasures to share with family!"

- Anne Mclean

Our independent channel 20 in San Francisco ran the Yule Log for 24 hours, beginning Christmas Eve, up until a few years ago, at which point it failed to put in an appearance. As with the New York version, the televised fireplace was accompanied by Christmas carols.

There was no explanation given for the demise of our Bay Area log, and I don't recall there having been any hue and cry about its return. I think it last made a showing towards the end of the nineties.

Other lost traditions included an oldies station (now playing hip hop) that ran a program voiced over by Ringo Starr, which played things like "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosy and David Bowie, and the entire contents of the Phil Spector Christmas album. I am sure this program was a syndicated event that surely ran elsewhere, but it was a highly anticipated event here.

I am also bothered by the lack of classic holiday programming on Thanksgiving. I just watched Home Alone this past Saturday night, where it didn't belong (this is a Thanksgiving must). Also, how dare anyone not show that marvelous holiday classic Home for the Holidays, starring Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr? Who can forget the scene with the slippery turkey that certainly wasn't completely scripted?

And there is always the wonderfully dreadful Christmas in Connecticut with Dyan Cannon. This bit of bad (over)acting was shown for several years running, but no more.

The holidays just aren't as fun anymore.

Best regards, Alla Marron

My name is Frank Denardo, I live in San Francisco, California and I used to remember an independent station that aired "The Yule Log." It would be about three to four hours long and they would start of with Andy Williams "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and concluded with Bobby Darin's "Merry Christmas Auld Lang Sine". They would also play the standards by Mel Torme, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Jim Nabors, Doris Day, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, and signature Christmas songs by Burl Ives (Have A Holly Jolly Christmas), Bing Crosby (White Christmas), Jose Feliciano (Feilz Navidad), Brenda Lee (Rocking Around the Christmas Tree), George Michaels (Last Christmas), The Carpenters (Merry Christmas Darling), and the above mentioned song by Andy Williams.

KICU 36 and KBCW (KBHK) 44 carry the Yule Log - they broadcast it four times at 9:00pm Christmas Eve and at 8:00am 12:00pm and a six hour extravengaza or marathon from 6:00pm to Midnight.

Sincerel, Frank Denardo

Thanks to Justin Kaplowitz!

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2019 Update:
PIX11 will air the original 1966 version of the Yule Log, which until 2016, had not been seen on air since 1969. The 1966 version of the Yule Log, filmed at Gracie Mansion, aired each Christmas Eve through 1969 until the tape degraded. A new Yule Log was filmed in 1970 as a replacement and has aired ever since.


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Christmas Fireplace

WPIX Yule Log Page
To bring the Yule Log back in 2001, it was remastered with the original Christmas carols that played along with the log until 1989.

"The station execs at WPIX 11 may not realize that 2011 was the 50th anniversary of their long-running "March Of The Wooden Soldiers" with Laurel & Hardy.

Yes, it first went on the air on WPIX in November, 1961. Before that the film was seen on WOR 9 in December, 1959 and on WCBS 2's "Early Show" which screened old movies in the afternoons from the 1950's to the 1960's." - Kevin S. Butler







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