Frequently Asked Questions:

When do you start working on the lights?
Honestly, the work for the following years display begins while the current display is up! Scouting store light inventory and snatching up lights on sale, figuring out what worked/didn't work/needs to be improved, etc.

In January, pre-season ordering takes place for LED's and certain supplies, and after a lull of activity in the spring and summer, we begin testing, repair work, and some off-site construction in September/October. Immediatly following Halloween, construction in the field begins, and a sprint to December 1 ensues.

How do you make the lights dance to the music?
I use software called "Light-O-Rama" to sequence the lights. Each song is hand-sequenced down to 1/20th of a second, allowing me to control the lights exactly to the beat of the song. Below is a picture of what a light sequence looks like on the screen:

LOR Screenshot

The hardware involved is specialized computer boards that take input power and break it out into multiple individual plugs, or "channels" - Individually controlled switches, if you will, that are switched on and off by the computer to create the effects you see.

How do you get the radio to play the display music?
I use a small FM transmitter, which has a range of a few hundred feet. It's basically a big version of what you might have once used to play your iPod in the car. I find an unused station, hook the transmitter to the speaker port on the computer, and viola! You can listen in your vehicle when you're within view of the display.

How long does it take to program a song?
Between sequencing the song, watching it, tweeking the sequencing, and finally being happy with the result, it generally takes 3-4 hours per minute of music to create the finished product. So, a 3 minute song takes 9-12 hours to sequence.

What songs have you sequenced?
From year to year almost all of the songs stay the same, and I add one every other year or so. A couple were retired when I went to the new show layout in 2013. Here is the 2014 lineup:

Frank Sinatra - Let It Snow
Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
Lindsey Stirling - Shadows
Straight No Chaser - We Three Kings
Trans Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve 12/24
Sheryl Crow - Merry Christmas Baby
Various Artists*: Santa Claus if Coming to Town
*Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi, Tracy Chapman, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, John Popper, Run-D.M.C., and Vanessa Williams

How much is the electric bill?
Not as much as you might think. It's hard to get an exact figure, being December is also the first month of using heat in the building and such, but our best estimate is a few hundred dollars. Approximatly 60% of the display is LED now, and the peak draw for the 2014 display is a little over 160 amps.

Why do you do this?
As a child, way too much exposure to Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation, coupled with the annual trips to the Richmond Tacky Light Tour. So yeah, Mom & Dad, this is totally your fault!

Where do you store everything?
We have a storage building. All of the light strings compress down to about 15 giant rubbermaid tubs. All of the wireframe characters, blowmolds, and other pre-made elements fit in a space less than 300 square feet.