An unusual, and unusually popular Christmas special aired on New York
The year was 1966. WPIX general manager Fred Thrower was big on
Christmas, and particularly loved the image of the family gathered around the
fireplace to enjoy a roaring fire. However, since New York City is so packed
with apartments, that image seemed to be long-gone. Fighting urbanization
with technology, Thrower came up with the idea of a televised fireplace. On
9:30 PM on December 24, 1966, the Yule Log made its debut.
For around three hours,
New York families could turn on channel 11, watch a roaring fire, and listen to
Christmas carols in the background. The program was simulcast on the
radio for those who wanted to listen to the music.
The years went by, and so did the Yule Logs. From 1966 to 1989, it became an
institution in New York television. Then, for "financial reasons," WPIX
cancelled the show. Many a baby boomer lamented the loss of his childhood
Christmas cheer from the TV.
The Yule Log appeared on WPIX's web site in 2000, but that wasn't enough
for some viewers. Joe Malzone grew tired of WPIX's stalling, and began a web
site of his own entitled "Bring Back the Log" (http://theyulelog.net). By
October 2001, he had been contacted by more than 600 people from all across the
country. This attracted the interest of Tom Vinciguerra, a writer for the
New York Times. After that publicity, WPIX decided to finally bring back the
Yule Log and broadcast it on December 25, 2001 from 8:00 to 10:00 AM. The
program, assisted by its extra publicity and corporate underwriting, was seen by more
than 200,000 families. It easily won its time slot in New York. The following
year, more than 280,000 households tuned in. The Yule Log's cost, which
basically consists of the lost advertising revenue of two commercial-free
hours, was defrayed by contributions from Jeep, Macy's, and the New York
Metropolitan Transit Authority.
The fireplace used for the original 1966 fireplace was Gracie Mansion, home of
then-New York Mayor John Lindsay. When WPIX tried to re-shoot the film a few
years later, they accidentally damaged a very expensive rug. The search for an
identical fireplace led producers to a house in California; this footage has
been used since 1970.
For those outside the New York area and unwilling to watch on-line, there
were six TV simulcasts in 2002: Washington, DC (WBDC-TV); Denver
(KWGN-TV); Albany (WEWB-TV); Indianapolis
(WXIN-TV); Atlanta (WATL-TV); and Chicago (CLTV).
These are all owned by the Tribune Corporation, which also owns WPIX. It
is likely that there will be more stations on Christmas Day 2003, given the
opportunities for underwriting and the growing name recognition of the Yule Log
Update Dec 24 2004: New York's MSG Network is airing the Yule Log locally. WGN, a superstation that is on many cable systems nationally, is also showing it.