If you have yet to drive past the Ken Richer residence on Center Ridge Road in Bryan some evening, you need to add the trip to your Christmas planner. The display of Christmas lighting is indeed something to behold. No, it’s not a ‘Tim Taylor – visible from space’ display that melts the snow a half-block away, but it is coordinated to some very special Christmas music that is broadcast at 91.1 on your FM dial.
Ken gave me a tour, and explained the inner workings of a light show that is drawing a lot of attention.
“I started out with the idea of just building regular window frames,” he said, adding, “This is just regular piping, and the attached lights are all red, green and blue pixels. They can change to any color you want. With the right combination of voltage, they can change to any color.
You’ve got your red, green and blue, but any combination of those will make a million different colors. The standard lights are controlled by special controllers that actually came as a kit. I put these together and soldered them according to the instructions. All of the controllers connect together to form a network. There is a computer in the garage that controls all the controller boxes. It’s on a timer. Everything plays off of the computer. I have a little FM transmitter that sits in the garage…a little ‘$50 from Amazon’ micro transmitter. You just find a frequency that’s not occupied, and you go from there. The range depends upon height and power. Some people can get a half-mile out of it; I get 3 or 4 blocks.”
This all begs the question as to when Ken got the idea to go high-tech with his Christmas lighting. His reply was immediate, “I’ve had the idea to do this for a long time. This whole thing is sold by a company called Light-O-Rama. You can add as many controllers as you want to. There’s guys that have thousands of channels. This is just my first attempt at this. I started on the window frames in August or September.
That’s when I started messing with it and playing around with some ideas in my head. Once I got everything planned, the plugging-in didn’t take that long…but each song takes about 8 to 10 hours to program. I’ve got four songs in the rotation right now, so every time I start off with a new song, it’s going to take 8 to 10 hours to get it where I think it’s ready to present.” You read that right; this is not some random, voltage-control switching mechanism. “Everything that you see – every blink that you watch while the music is playing – is something that I had to program in. Every change of light and every change of color is programmed in by hand. It takes about 10 hours to program a 3-minute song.”
“I’ve always put out a lot of Christmas lights,” Ken continued. “I’ve just always liked lights. I think the lights make people happy, and makes kids happy. I guess this is just my way of being a big kid at Christmas time. We’ve had a really good response this year. It’s been a lot of fun watching people drive by, stop and listen to a song or two, then drive on and see all the comments later on social media. It’s been a lot of fun to watch the people’s reaction. I have not received any “bah humbug” reactions yet…not a one.”
Even the four songs that Ken has in rotation are special. “They are all local,” he said. “Of the four songs that we have, everything that you hear is local. Two of the songs are me, my wife and my sister-in-law that we recorded back in the mid and late nineties when we a gospel trio. We did the song ‘Light a Candle’, and we did the ‘Sleigh Ride’ song. There’s a song in there called ‘Christmas on the Square’ that was actually recorded by my neighbor, Gary Vitek, and a friend of his, Amy Pickering. That song was written as a testament to Bryan, with the reference to Christmas around the courthouse square. The fourth song is actually a Trans Siberian Orchestra song, with my daughter playing violin to it. It’s a song called Siberian Sleigh Ride. We found the sheet music for it, and tried to mute the lead guitar track as much as we could so that she could overlay the violin.”
You owe it to yourself and your family to make the trip down Center Ridge Road to see Ken’s creation. This is definitely something that you don’t see every day, even during the Christmas season. When you make the trip though, remember to tune in to FM 91.1 to get the full effect of the show. You won’t be disappointed!
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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