Dancing lights debutProgrammed lights display is a labor of love
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
In the midst of summer, when thoughts of Christmas are far from most peoples’ minds, Cottage Grove resident Bill Johanson was diligently planning his outdoor holiday lights display.
He estimates he spent about 120 hours on his computer programming the various lights in his yard at 8638 Hadley Ave. to flash to the music of 21 different Christmas songs, which he broadcasts to anyone within about a block of his house using a low-power FM transmitter.
“You just keep poring over and over it again and keep playing it back until you get the synchronization right,” he said. “I’ve had cars lined up every night stopping and watching — it’s kind of gratifying.”
Johanson and his wife have lived in their home for about 30 years, but they didn’t start decorating with exterior Christmas lights until about 12 years ago when his wife brought home a few strands of icicle lights.
He noticed a few cars stopping and looking, and he thought, “Oh, that’s kind of nice,” he said.
“The next year I bought a few more lights, and I just went crazy after that,” he said. “There was no stopping me.”
About four years ago, when Johanson was off work while undergoing chemotherapy, he had extra time for surfing the Internet. That’s how he first learned about home holiday lights set to music.
“It just struck my fancy,” he said. “I thought, ‘that is ever neat.’”
He started with a cheaper system that automatically made his lights dance to the music, but he wasn’t satisfied with how it looked, and wanted more control over the display. So this year, he bought the $700, 32-channel computerized system that is controlling his lights for the first time this season. The system involves hooking his computer up with a long cord to control boxes with electrical outlets. Then each different group of lights is plugged into the appropriate outlet. He’s already planning to buy more control boxes for next year so that he can have more groups of lights, he said.
This year’s display features around 8,000 or 9,000 lights, he said.
Johanson spreads the Christmas spirit in other ways too. Ever since he grew his long, white beard years ago, he’s been playing Santa for friends and family.
Sometimes he’ll even go out as Santa and greet those who drive by to look at his lights, he said.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure to see people stop by and they seem to enjoy it,” he said. “I just get a kick out of that.”