Richardsons’ lights a theatrical show

Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chris Richardson's house on Arrow Drive in Alabaster features a yard full of lights synchronized to music broadcast over the family's FM transmitter. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

By the time the Christmas season rolls around each year, Alabaster resident Chris Richardson and his wife, Tracy, have already been thinking about their holiday display for months.

“I started building some of the props in the first part of August this year,” Richardson said. “It’s a lot of work to do something like this, but it’s worth it.”

For the fifth straight year, Richardson’s house at 1813 Arrow Drive, which is off First Avenue West in Alabaster, will feature nearly 30,000 lights synchronized to about a 15-minute music track broadcast over the family’s FM transmitter.

Richardson said the enormous display began several years ago as a friendly competition with one of his neighbors and steadily grew into the production it is today.

“We kind of had a Christmas light feud, I guess you could say. He would put up a strand, I would put up a strand and it went from there,” he said. “I have been fascinated with animation and things like that since I was a kid.

“I started doing some research, and I found out I could use a computer program to control all the lights and synchronize them with music,” Richardson said.

After pulling up to the house, cars can tune to 88.3 FM to hear the house’s holiday music. The thousands of lights on and around the family’s house then illuminate in different patterns to the music.

The family’s theatrical light display is no small feat, Richardson said. For each minute of music, Richardson spends between two and eight hours synchronizing the lights.

“It is time consuming,” Richardson said with a laugh. “It took me four or five three-day weekends to get everything set up.”

Richardson said he added a few new elements this year, such as a new Christmas tree with 4,800 bulbs on it, but is getting close to “maxing out” his house’s electrical output.

“I’m just about maxed out. I don’t have enough electricity to power many more lights,” he said, noting the holiday setup currently is using about 100 amps of electrical pull. “My electrical bill isn’t too bad in December because they aren’t all on at the same time.”

As Christmas draws near, the crowds on Richardsons’ cul-de-sac grow larger. Every year, Richardson said he is “amazed” at the crowd drawn by the display.

“Last year, I looked out and one of those huge Hummer stretch limos was out there,” Richardson said. “I just enjoy the challenge of doing it every year. I’m a hands-on craftsman kind of person, so I love it.”