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Growing up in the Shamokin and Mount Carmel area, it’s likely that when you hear someone say “Letters To Santa” it brings a warm feeling to your heart. It may bring back memories of preparing your letter for Santa, probably with the help of your Mother or Father, and then either mailing it to WISL Radio (a.k.a. The North Pole) or going with Mom or Dad to drop it off at a local business, who would make sure it would get to Santa, then racing home from school, or maybe waking up extra early to hear Santa Clause read your letter live on WISL Radio.
The program was “Letters To Santa” and was arguably the longest running program on WISL Radio. While it’s difficult to track down the exact details of the show’s origins, we do know that it dates back as far as 1949, one year after WISL Radio signed on. According to an article written in the December 19th, 1949 edition of Broadcasting Magazine, the program drew “thousands of pieces of mail from every community, both urban and rural, in the area” and featured two announcers who would alternate reading the letters live on the air. The program ran 15 minutes in length and was usually sponsored by one local business.
The program continued throughout the 1950’s, airing at various times during the day, sometimes at 11am other times at 4pm. The popularity of “Letters To Santa” grew and by the early 1960’s was being hosted by WISL News Director Jim Riley. The format was fairly the same, letters would come to the station and would be simply read on the air by Riley. However, in 1961, that format would change and WISL’s “Letter’s To Santa” would take on a whole new meaning to children in the area.
Tom Kutza has always loved the Christmas season and has even considered himself to be one of Santa’s helpers. When he joined WISL in 1961, he said to himself, if he had anything to do with the “Letters To Santa” program, he would arrange to have Santa read the letters to the children. It wouldn’t be long before Tom got his wish. Jim Riley accepted a job with WHLM-AM radio in Bloomsburg, PA, and upon his departure Tom took over the “Letters To Santa Program.”
From this point on, not only would children get to hear their letters read on the air, but WISL Radio would “fire up their connection to the North Pole” so that Santa himself could read the letters live on the radio.
Over the years there were many sponsors of the “Letters To Santa” program. In the 1950’s there was W.C. Hack & Sons and Guinan’s Department Store, both of which showed their support in newspaper ads in the Shamokin News Dispatch. Kutza said that during the 1960’s Reed’s Dairy was one of the major sponsors, and that kids could give their letter to the Reed’s delivery man to be read by Santa. Burger King was also a sponsor over the years, and kids could take their letters to the restaurant to get them to the big guy.
Kutza said that it has been interesting to see how toys have changed through the years. When he took over the program the children would “write for dolls and tinker-toys, but today it’s all computers and high tech gadgets.” The program has brought it’s share of heart breakers to the air as well, Kutza said that there were many letters asking Santa to “please get Daddy a job for Christmas” or “bring Daddy back from the war.” He shared with us a couple of the memorable happy stories from over the years:
Father Herbert Skurski from St. Stephen’s Church was loved by the children. Known as “The Magician” it saddened many when he was sent by the Archdiocese to a church in Nova Scotia. The Father was well known in the Shamokin area, so it wasn’t surprising when one youngster wrote a letter to Santa asking if he would please pick up Father Skurski in Nova Scotia on his way to Shamokin and bring him back for Christmas. Well, as luck would have it, Father Skurski was headed back to Shamokin for the season. Can you imagine how happy that youngster was to find that Santa had honored the wish and delivered Father Skurski to Shamokin, just in time for Christmas Mass?
Another story takes us back to the days of the Vietnam War. A young boy wrote to Santa “if it’s possible, could you bring daddy home for Christmas?” Kutza said that these letters were always the saddest, knowing that all this little guy wanted was his daddy home for Christmas, and that nothing could be done to make sure his wish came true. However in this case there was a little Christmas magic in the air. Christmas morning came and the little boy came downstairs from his room, hoping to see his daddy standing there. He looked and looked and there was no sign of his daddy. Sad and disappointed that his daddy was not there on Christmas morning, he looked at his mother and said “I guess Santa couldn’t bring daddy home.” What the boy didn’t know was that in the early morning hours, while he was sleeping his father did come home and was asleep upstairs. The boy’s mother said he should go look upstairs, maybe Santa had left him up there. Needless to say, Santa delivered, and their family was reunited for Christmas.
In 1998, Kutza left WISL and “Letters to Santa” came to an end, at least in it’s original form. Five years later, in 2003 the News-Item approached Kutza, who at the time was the Tourism Director of Northumberland County, about bringing the program back, this time through the magic of the world wide web. Kutza agreed and now children from anywhere in the world can send their letters directly to Santa and hear them read by him nightly through the News-Item’s website. The tradition also continues on the WISL internet stream weekday night at 7pm through the month of December. Kutza said he is so thankful that the News-Item saw the value in this wonderful program and brought it back to life.
We were able to locate a couple vintage “Letters To Santa” programs from the 1990’s, they are presented here for your enjoyment. We are always looking to add to the archives, so if you or anyone you know may have recorded a “Letters To Santa” program on WISL feel free to email us at email@example.com. We will be happy to pick up cassettes or reel to reel tapes, transfer them to a digital format, return the originals and provide a digital copy in return. We would love to be able to share more Christmas Magic from “Letters To Santa.”
Letters To Santa program from the early 1990’s
Letters To Santa program from 1995
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