The Best Christmas Display

It’s Christmastime again, and that means it’s time to go out looking for Christmas displays. And you can find plenty of displays on the west side of town, and scattered around both the Carson and Eagle Valleys, but if you don’t head out to the Johnson Lane area and see Wayne Kremer’s display, your Christmas just isn’t complete.

Wayne has not only put up lights, he’s put up snowflakes, dogs, little mini Christmas trees, and a 20-foot megatree. But then he took the next step and programmed the whole display so it’s choreographed to music, which he pumps out over his own radio transmitter. The whole system turns his yard (and part of his next-door neighbor’s) into one big stage, where a 20-minute show comprised of nearly ten songs plays out for anyone willing to brave the crowds.

Here’s a sample:

Last year I wrote about the display, but back then I didn’t know too much about it or how it worked. A few days later I found out that the display has its own website, www.nevadachristmas.com. And this year I have an exclusive interview with the guy responsible for it all, Wayne Kremer. He was good enough to answer a few questions about how the lights work and where he got the idea to do it all.

How did you get started? Where did you get the idea to do a synchronized light display, and when was the first year you put it up?

I started computerized Christmas lights back in 2002 when I discovered a website called Planet Christmas run by Chuck Smith. This website had details of how he made his display computerized. I was amazed and ordered a kit (called Dasher at the time) from a hobbyist on that website. When the kit arrived, I quickly threw it together and tried it out. It worked! Back then, I had nothing more than 4 small trees that danced around without any music. I don’t think anyone who came by and saw it was really amused…but I was.

The following year, I switched over to a new Christmas lighting control called “Light-o-rama“. Light-o-rama added new features (dimming, shimmer, and twinkle effects). I continue to use their products today. The following years, I added a little more…and a little more, until I am where I’m at now. By the way, many think my electric bill is super high, but in reality, it is normally only $50 or $60 more. The reason for the low electric bill is that all of the lights are not normally on at the same time.

How does it work?

Simply, it works by sequencing a song (an *.mp3) on a PC using the software from Light-o-rama. Sequencing is nothing more than telling certain lights (channels) to turn on or off at a particular point (events) in the song. Once sequencing is complete, the PC will send out signals to controllers that tell them to turn certain channels on, off, dim up, dim down, twinkle, or shimmer. The PC speaker output is connected to a legal quarter watt FM transmitter that broadcasts the music out.

How long does it take to set up and program the display?

Our display takes about 5 days to setup…just for putting everything out. Prior to putting everything out, I need to put these displays together and sequence the music. Each song takes about 7 to 8 hours to sequence. It takes so long because I am programming each channel (160 of them) down to the tenth of a second. So for a 3 minute song, I can have up to 1800 events…with each event able to turn on/off 160 channels. Major time sucker! I only have 7 songs that I sequenced, but this year, I added a bunch of voiceovers that needed to be sequenced as well. The good news is that I can use the prior years sequences and add to them each year without starting over.

What kind of response do you get from your neighbors? Especially the ones next door, since you have lights in their yard?

The neighbors are just great! I speak to all of them about our display and tell them if they have any issues, to let me know. Yes, I have lights in their yard, but they requested it! There is nothing like a lit up dog peeing (yellow snow) in your neighbors yard. I think the biggest impact of response is from my family who has to endure countless hours of my sick hobby. I just finished a large ‘Happy Holidays’ sign that took me a couple months of wrapping lights to a wireframe, adding programming sequences, and installing it. The sign project was just too time consuming and I won’t do projects like that in the future. Instead, I will buy unique pre-built items so it won’t put such a strain on the family who graciously understand and appreciate what I am doing.

How did you get the idea to collect food for the Carson Valley Community Food Closet?

My wife, Lisa, came up with the idea. She saw how many came to our display and thought that it would be a great idea to collect food for our community’s food closet. Our neighbor Liz Starkey became involved and helped us collect the food and deliver it to the CVCFC. This year, we are also collecting food, but in addition, we are also collecting monetary funds for the Rios children who were imprisoned and starved by their family. These funds are being made to their medical and education second chance fund. We post the fund total on our website (www.nevadachristmas.com) every night. The Rios kids came by our display last week and we were very happy they were there.

Tell me about yourself. What do you do for a living? What’s the motivation behind putting up the display?

I work at GE Energy in Minden as the IT Site Lead where I take care of the servers, network, client machines, etc. My job is quite challenging at times, but I enjoy it. Our display is our gift to the community. It is special when you talk with everyone who has seen it and they tell you how much they enjoyed it. Everyone from kids to seniors can enjoy the display in their own way. I was told today by someone, “My husband hates going to look at Christmas lights, but when I took him by yours, he was thoroughly enjoying it”. When we hear all the compliments and how it brightened their holiday season, it makes it worth all the work put into it.

What advice do you have for folks who want to put up their own display?
Where do they start?

For anyone who wants to put up their own display, I suggest first starting at Planet Christmas to get ideas and tips for their display. Start off small with a 8 or 16 channel controller and a mediocre PC running it. Light-o-rama has starter packages that include everything you need to get started. When starting, don’t wait until November to begin…it will most likely be too late. It takes time to get the equipment, sequence your music, and setup your display, so give yourself plenty of time. Don’t try to create a bunch of musical sequences by rushing…my motto is, “Quality over Quantity”. While sequencing, use your imagination to dream up the way you would like the lights to dance. Finally, if you ever have any questions or problems, contact the Planet Christmas online community. They are very knowledgable and helpful.

Come on by and enjoy our display! Merry Christmas to everyone!

Thanks, Wayne, both for the interview and for putting together these lights every year.

If you want to check out the display, it can be found in the Johnson Lane area, in the Carson Valley. The address is 1176 Chaparral Court, and you can find directions here, or just look at the embedded map below.
View Larger Map

The lights run until New Year’s, so you better get out there and watch them! I’ll see you there.

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