December 23, 1976: Christmas Spirit

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(Pictured: the cast of Barney Miller from the episode airing on December 23, 1976.)

December 23, 1976, was a Thursday. It’s a cold day in the Midwest, with temperatures in the single digits above zero in many places and strong winds driving wind-chills near 40 below. The forecast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day contains a slight chance for snow. Today, president-elect Jimmy Carter completes his cabinet selections by naming Joseph Califano to be Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. While appointing a special energy adviser, Carter says he may consider creating a cabinet-level Department of Energy. All three network newscasts lead with news of Carter’s appointments. Other stories covered tonight include new cases of paralysis linked to the swine-flu vaccine, and the conviction of Watergate bagman Tony Ulasewicz for tax evasion. He failed to report as income payoffs he received personally. President and Mrs. Ford are spending the holiday in Vail, Colorado. The president spends the morning in meetings but goes Christmas shopping in the afternoon. In the evening, the Fords attend a cocktail party and a dinner at Sheika’s Discotheque. U.S. marshals in four cities seize 4,500 square yards of carpeting manufactured by a Georgia company because it does not comply with federal flammability standards. The New York Times reports on Wednesday’s 41st annual Debutante Cotillion and Christmas Ball at the Waldorf Astoria, at which 76 debs made what the Times calls “their formal bows to society.” Also yesterday, Monty Hall taped his last episode of Let’s Make a Deal.

Future major league pitcher Brad Lidge, future NHL star Scott Gomez, and future NFL kicker Kris Brown are born. Five games are scheduled in the National Hockey League; the Chicago Blackhawks have the night off after losing to Buffalo 4-2 last night. Before the game, the team fired Billy Reay, who had coached the Hawks since 1963. In Philadelphia, the Flyers beat Washington 5-2. Flyer Mel Bridgman, the first player taken in the 1975 NHL draft, records what is known as a Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal, an assist, and a fight. Hit movies in theaters include King Kong, The Enforcer, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Silver Streak, and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. Car buyers in Madison, Wisconsin, can get an Oldsmobile Omega Brougham, loaded, for $5188, then drive it to Fuzzy Thurston’s Left Guard restaurant for the Thursday night filet special, which costs $3.95. On ABC tonight, the Sweathogs get the Christmas spirit on Welcome Back, Kotter, and it’s Christmas Eve in the 12th Precinct on Barney Miller. ABC also airs the final episode of canceled sitcom The Nancy Walker Show, created by Norman Lear. The CBS lineup includes The Waltons, Hawaii Five-O, and Barnaby Jones. NBC starts its night with Doug Henning’s World of Magic, a live show on which the magician makes an elephant disappear. The Henning special is followed by part 4 of the miniseries Once an Eagle. Later, on Tomorrow, Tom Snyder welcomes musician Van McCoy and DJ Norm N. Nite to discuss disco music.

The Beach Boys play Portland, Oregon, Blondie plays CBGB and Barry Manilow plays the Uris Theater, both in New York City, and AC/DC plays at a high school in Australia. At WLS in Chicago, “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart is #1 for a fifth straight week. “Nadia’s Theme” by Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. makes a strong move from #8 to #3, as does “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which goes from #20 to #13. The two biggest movers on the chart are both up 12: a live and edited version of “Free Bird” by Lynryd Skynryd (#30 to #18) and “Weekend in New England” by Barry Manilow (#42 to #30). The new #1 album in Chicago is the debut album by Boston, taking over the top spot from Frampton Comes Alive!

A young radio geek in southern Wisconsin listens to all these songs and more, sometimes on WLS but more often on FM stations from Madison, Dubuque, or Freeport, Illinois, and he looks forward to what turns out to be a most memorable Christmas, the echoes of which he will still be able to hear many years in the future.

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