Randy Sherwyn is the one-man-marching-band behind the Christmas program, “Christmas Across the Lands.” His usual day job is as program director and morning man for Beasley Broadcast’s WJPT(FM) in the Fort Myers, Fla., area. But he has a quasi-secret identity as a holiday radio special producer. He carved a few minutes out of his busy holiday schedule to talk with Radio World.
Radio World: This is your 15th year, how did this get started and did you think it would continue?
Randy Sherwyn: I had purchased a different program in the mid ’80s for a station I programmed in South Dakota. It was like $800. The next year I got it again, and there were coffee stains on the CDs — obviously it was not updated. I said to myself that one day I was going to do a radio Christmas show, update it every year and make it affordable for all stations. So in 1999 I started my show as a six-hour show with three radio stations. Now, 15 years later, “Christmas Across the Lands” is on in the U.S.A., Canada, Ireland, England, Kosovo, Guam and many other places. Plus for about six years now I am proud to have it on The American Forces Radio Network. I donate it to them every year in memory of my father, who fought in WWII. I only charge 99 bucks for any station, no matter the market. It’s never been about the $$$.
RW: Special, seasonal programming like this seems to be a lost art in radio. You’re a guy at a radio station, not the head of programming for a huge network operation dictating orders to an army of worker bees. Give us an idea of how you put this together – planning on who and what will be in the show.
Sherwyn: You’re absolutely correct. I start with my passions — radio, dogs and Christmas. I start writing in March, record it throughout the summer months. It’ll be 92 and sunny here in South Florida, and I’m inside my home studio recording and producing a show for the holidays. I get a lot of ribbing from fellow station staff, and even neighbors, about working on Christmas in the summer. It takes a lot of time, you just can’t go, “Well it’s Thanksgiving, I think I’ll do a 12-hour Christmas show!”
Many of the artists I’ve interviewed like John Lodge of The Moody Blues, Richard Marx, etc., all tell me they record their holiday songs in July! You have to, in order to market it in the fall. Same goes for me. Whenever I do a phoner with an artist throughout the year, I always save 5–10 minutes when we’re done talking about their current project for a little Christmas talk (assuming they have a holiday release in the past). I update the customs, trivia and other features throughout the year.
RW: When this show’s production is finished, it’s 12 hours of air time. That’s huge. No doubt it requires a lot of production planning.
Sherwyn: It takes at least 200 man hours every year to do it all — writing, rewriting, music selection, recording, editing and producing. The only thing I don’t do is the mastering. I like a different set of ears to do the final tweak, though I have mastered a few segments when I redo something at the last minute. Other than that, I do it all.
Where Randy Sherwyn gets the magic done.
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Where’s the production done?
I’ve converted one of my back bedrooms in my home here in Ft. Myers, Fla., into a studio. Not just a mic and a PC. I use Pro Tools software, an AKG shotgun mic, an Avalon processor, Mac, KRK monitors, etc. It’s pretty sweet. I’m a BMI songwriter and actually penned two of the songs in the show. Both were professionally recorded: “Mrs. for Christmas” in Nashville and “Pretty Please, Mr. Santa” by a 6-year-old girl named Abbie in Sydney, N.S.W.
What is the most difficult challenge in putting a mammoth project like this together?
Well, first and foremost, you have to be disciplined. No matter what, in the summer I have to spend weekend mornings/early afternoons recording. Even if I’m not in the mood, I have to at least get a little something accomplished. It’s difficult to mow the yard or whatever, then come inside and pretend to be in the holiday spirit. I keep up all my inside decorations including two trees all year to help. During my station vacations I will work all night when it’s dark and my lights can be on inside. It’s really out of routine because I usually get up at 4 a.m. to do mornings on WJPT/Ft. Myers. Those weeks I go to bed at 4 a.m.!
You work with the American Forces Network Radio. Do you get feedback from them and the soldiers and sailors hearing the program?
Yes. I get emails from service members who are away from home for the first time, and they tell me how listening to my show kept them entertained and not so depressed. That’s like gold to me — truly what it’s all about. Not only soldiers, I remember a single woman with two young children in upstate New York emailing me. There was a snowstorm that cut power to her house. All she had was a battery operated radio playing my show on the local station and her fireplace. That’s how they spent Christmas Eve. I get a lump in my throat every time I think of that one.
Can independent stations or stations owned by other networks pick the program up?
Absolutely. I had a station in Virginia one year call on December 24. The server that had his Christmas music died. So he called me, downloaded my show and was up and running by 5 p.m. That allowed him to be able to make it home to his new wife and baby for Christmas Eve dinner. Any terrestrial or Internet station as long as you cover the appropriate license fees to broadcast music.
Tell us about corporate support from Beasley.
Denyse Mesnik at Beasley Broadcasting Group corporate in Naples, Fla., is my Christmas PR angel. She’s so supportive of my efforts in everything! My G.M. here in Ft. Myers, Brad Beasley, is also quite possibly my show’s #1 fan!
The latest “Christmas Across the Lands” features Richard Marx, Kelly Clarkson, Chicago, Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu from “It’s a Wonderful Life”) and others. It will air on WJPT and Beasley sister station WXKB(FM) along with various stations throughout the United States and the American Forces Network Radio. For information on the program or airing it, visit