It’s time to see the lights of the season! It’s so fun to pack the kids in the car with their pajamas on and listen to Christmas music while driving around to see the lights. One of our favorite Christmas light displays in the western suburbs is the one at 735 S. Brainard in La Grange. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bob Sherman, the man behind this residential holiday light show, to find out why he started his amazing light show complete with a corresponding radio broadcast, and how he pulls it off.
Bob always loved Christmas lights as he grew up in La Grange (he even won a light contest in La Grange Park when he was young). Fast forward to him moving back to La Grange and being a die hard University of Illinois fan in 2005. Their basketball them was great that year and Bob was inspired to erect ILL and INI lights in orange and blue on his roof!
After the Illini basketball team fell off for a while he came back to his love of lights and decided to start his Christmas display in 2009. He used the existing circuits in the garage… until their lights started dimming in the house! Bob realized that if he was going to commit to doing Christmas light shows he needed to do some research. He found doityourselfchristmas.com, where he learned from others in forums and connected with resources for supplies, namely an independent supplier of build-your-own circuit boards. He then also added dedicated circuits just for the light displays. This year Bob is up to four circuits and circuit boards, each of which controls 24 separate light strands!
Creating a fun show for the neighborhood fuels his hobby. One of Bob’s favorite memories is when a minivan pulled up in front of his house, the side door slid open, and a bunch of little faces peered out with wonder and amazement on their faces as they watched the show. Bob is such a kind guy and clearly loves providing joy for everyone with his light show this holiday season!
This year 18 snowflakes have been added! They are attached to the roof and programmed to look like snow falling. He has also added length to the show. Two years ago the show was 12 minutes and now with added lights and songs it is 20 minutes from start to finish. Want to warm up during the show? Bob and his wife, Joni, have two sons (7 and 9 years old) who are considering a hot cocoa stand in front of the light display to make it even more of an event so people can warm up while enjoying the show.
Not only is the light show enjoyable for Bob and all of the local viewers, but his sons also like to be involved with programming the lights to music. This year one of his sons even chose a song and is designing how the lights will interact with his choice. His students at Lyons Township High School also get excited about the show. Bob has been a physics teacher at LT going on 17 years and he brings in examples of circuits and boards during the electricity and power unit. What an interesting and helpful application lesson for parallel and series circuits!
To create the cool effect of the lights coordinating to festive music, Bob bought a transmitter and antenna to host his own short range radio station. He found a station not being used and set the broadcast to that station. So be sure to tune into his own local station, 89.1 FM! One of his neighbors even made a song request for his show: Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
A computer program called Vixen allows each strand of lights to change in 1/20 of a second increments, so you can imagine how long it take to program all of the lights! The program allows the user to view the intensity and volume of the music so each light strand can turn on, turn off or dim separately.
Bob’s display is about half incandescent and half LED lights. A lot of thought goes into what types of lights are used. For example, the snowflakes on the roof are incandescent because the warmth of the lights will melt any snow that falls, so everyone can continue to see that part of the show.
The increase in his electrical bill is inconsequential compared to the cost of extension cords. Who would have thought that cords would be the biggest expense? But Bob has 2,000 feet of extension cords to make the display! He does his best to shop sales and space out his cord purchases, so it doesn’t deter him from continuing his hobby.
The time to complete the light programming and other factors, such as building new circuit boards, coming up with new ideas, and preparing the next show, resulted in an every-other-year schedule for the show. So be sure to check it out this year because it won’t be back until 2018!
The best way to approach the house is to head northbound on Brainard Avenue so you can pull over on the right (parking is not allowed on the southbound side of the street). The Sherman house is just north of 55th Street on Brainard. Kindly leave the driveways clear while stopping to enjoy the show.
735 S. Brainard Avenue
La Grange, IL 60525
Tune your radio to 89.1 FM