Byron Gunter has always been a holiday light enthusiast. While most kids save their allowance money for candy, toys, or new clothes, Gunter saved his for Christmas lights. “As a pre-teen, my display got so large it was featured in the local paper, and the rest was history,” he said.
It was an interest Gunter maintained into adulthood and brought with him when he moved to the Lucy Depp Park community in Powell in 2014. “One of the largest factors in buying my house was the ability to have a large Christmas light show,” he said. When Kevin Rhodus moved into the neighborhood a few months later, one of their first conversations was about the possibility of organizing a large-scale holiday light show. “Kevin brought the technical background needed to make it happen, and here we stand today, with one of the largest neighborhood light shows in Central Ohio,” Gunter said. The show now includes five neighboring houses over 7.5 acres in the Lucy Depp Park community.
Gunter and Rhodus, along with their neighbor Dave Johnson, answered some questions for (614) about how to set up your own fabulous holiday light display, and how they are giving back to the community through their show.
(614): Tell us about your setup process. What does it look like to organize this show?
BG: We start hanging lights in early September. It takes over two months to get everything up. There are over 200 trees, bushes, and props that are each individually controlled. We lost count of the exact number of strands a long time ago. In addition to hanging lights, we have to set up controllers, run data cabling, mount antennas and get all the infrastructure in place to make the show happen. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes involved to get 7.5-acres to all turn on and off at the same time.
(614): How do you organize the display across houses? Is the design collaborative, or does each house create its own display?
KR: Each year we have a dinner in early fall with all the families involved with the show to finalize our plans. Each house involved creates and hangs their own displays. Then we work collaboratively together to program it into one large continuous show.
(614): What is the process for programming your light show? Does the programming take the same amount of time every year?
KR: We start off programming the show by making our own soundtrack each year. We spend most of the spring and summer deciding what songs we want to use next year. From there, we use software to synchronize each tree to the soundtrack and create what is called a sequence. As we add more houses and more complex displays, the amount of time required grows exponentially. Last year it took approximately 80-100 hours to sequence the six-minute show. This year that number will increase a lot with all we added. Once the show is sequenced, we load it to multiple mini- computers (Raspberry Pi’s and Beaglebone’s) that control sections of the show and are tied together via a large network. We monitor everything connected to the network 24/7 and instantly get email alerts if any problems occur.
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(614): How does the show change from year to year?
BG: Each year the show gets larger and larger. We have kept a tradition of adding another house (or more) every year. We also are constantly evolving our displays. For example, pixels allow us to control each individual bulb in a string of lights. We grew from just one pixel tree last year to wrapping over 100 trees in pixels this year.
(614): Last year, you collected donations at the show to raise money for a local charity. Are you planning to do so again this year?
DJ: For the second year in a row, we are raising money for Peace for Paws Ohio. This organization is very close to us, as my wife is the Medical Director and on the Board of Directors. Peace for Paws rescues pets from high kill shelters across the state of Ohio. Many of the pets in the neighborhood are rescues from Peace for Paws.
(614): How much was raised last year?
DJ: Last year we raised over $5,000 dollars for Peace for Paws. The money went directly to help with the vet bills for many dogs and cats in their care.
(614): Do you have a sense of how many people visited?
DJ: We don’t have a final number but most nights we averaged somewhere between 200- 400 cars.
(614): What’s the cost of putting on this annual light show? Do you accept donations?
DJ: The cost of doing this is way more than our wives know. Almost all the lights are LED so there is very little increase to our electric bill. Almost all the cost is tied up in lights, extension cords, and controllers. Any donations we receive go to Peace for Paws.
(614): What’s an unexpected challenge you’ve experienced, and how did you overcome it?
BG: By far, traffic has been our largest unexpected challenge. We had no idea what the turnout would be the first year when we simply put out on Nextdoor that we were doing a light show. Within a day we had cars trying to go the opposite directions on one-lane roads and driving through yards to get around stopped cars. We quickly realized we needed to control the traffic and make the show one direction.
(614): What advice would you give to anyone who wants to elevate their holiday lights this year?
KR: Do it! There are tons of great online and local communities, [such as] Light Up Ohio, of Christmas light enthusiasts. It’s very easy to start with a small display and grow it each year. A lot of our fun we get out of doing the show is experimenting and trying new ideas each year.
(614): Anything you’d like to add?
DJ: We all got really lucky with the light show to be able to have a group of neighbors turn into a close group of friends. It has really brought our neighborhood together and gives us an amazing opportunity to give back to the surrounding communities.
This exchange has been lightly edited. For times and directions to Lucy Depp Park,, visit lucydepppark.wordpress.com.