November 14, 2016
Fifty-four years ago this month a package arrived at the downtown Superior Street studios of Duluth’s NBC television station containing a gift for Duluthians of 1962. The gift was an audio tape with the original recording of the “Christmas City Song” by NBC mega-star Merv Griffin backed by the NBC Orchestra. The song, of course, became the theme of the annual Christmas City of the North Parade and a spark of community pride for every new generation. But, hidden on that audio tape was another gift for the people of Duluth; a gift that has just been brought to light this year thanks to an accidental discovery and a bit of good luck.
KBJR staffers working in the 1960s recall that Griffin recorded the “Christmas City of the North” song from sheet music he happened to see at the station while visiting Duluth. The song and its companion “Song of the Christmas City” were written by Don Peterson of Virginia and given to the station to help celebrate the new Christmas City of the North Parade which the station had organized a few years earlier.
Griffin had come to Duluth as the featured speaker at the annual Hall of Fame Dinner and later said the people of Duluth greeted him so warmly that he wanted to give the community a gift. Visiting his friend, KBJR General Manager Bob Rich, afforded Griffin the opportunity when he took a copy of the sheet music back to New York and recorded the track with the help of NBC’s in-house orchestra.
Now fast-forward to 2016 when, during an extensive remodeling project of the KBJR studios in Canal Park, current staffers ‘discovered’ a locked fire box hidden deep in a filing cabinet. Inside was a small box labeled "Gotham Recording Corporation-New York City" containing the original reel-to-reel audio tape sent by Merv Griffin in 1962. The tape was then sent to an outside recording studio which specializes in preservation of legacy audio recordings.
As expected, preservationists found the two songs performed by Merv Griffin as well as three private messages recorded by Griffin for the City of Duluth. It’s unclear if these messages were ever released to the public, but they clearly confirm Griffin’s warm feelings for Duluthians.
“Hi this is Merv Griffin wishing all of you in the Christmas City of Duluth the happiest of Holidays. Best to everybody at WDSM and WDSM TV.”
Radio was the dominant media at that time and WDSM radio and WDSM TV were owned by the same company. WDSM TV went on to become the KBJR TV that exists today. To hear more from Merv Griffin you’ll have to watch KBJR’s 58th broadcast of the Christmas City of the North Parade on Friday, November 18th starting at 6:25PM!
Dave Jensch of KBJR 6 is Vice Chair of the Greater Downtown Council's Board of Directors