Some time during the holiday season of 1988 or ’89, a colleague at the publishing company where I worked then (and by which I am still employed, some four owners later), being familiar with my affection for Christmas music, offered me an orphaned promotional cassette tape titled “Our Christmas Best to You.” The packaging was nondescript–-mostly black type over a white background–-but it did indicate its source as being Bonneville Media Communications.
Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Bonneville Media Communications has long since expanded to become Bonneville International. What began as a radio and TV network in the Triad Center Broadcast House in Salt Lake City is now is the owner of 22 radio stations (some of them award winning) in San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City (where the company also owns KSL TV, an NBC affiliate). Focused on local programming, Bonneville’s website touts its mission as being to “produce the highest quality local programming that creates a positive impact on our communities…do business with integrity and respect, internally and externally…and care about and invest in our employees’ quality of life.”
Bonneville (a name honoring prehistoric Lake Bonneville, which once covered much of what is now Salt Lake City, and Benjamin Bonneville, a fur trapper and early explorer of the American West who opened portions of the Oregon Trail and was lionized in prose by Washington Irving) also is wholly owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through its for-profit arm, Deseret Management Corporation. It has its own entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. That information alone might unnerve some on the receiving end of the Christmas tape in question, but this unassuming little cassette tape turned out not to be a LDS recruiting tool, and in fact never mentions the Church at all in the course of its 28-minutes-plus running time. It did, though, turn out to be charming, funny and, on a couple of occasions, unexpectedly touching—a real Christmas keeper, overflowing with heart, good will, love and joy. To my knowledge, it existed that year and that year only as a holiday present from Bonneville to its media friends, was never released commercially and has long since passed into PR obscurity, undeservedly I might add.
Its content centers on the quest of one Don Richman (or Richmond–-a Google search turned up no one with either name that might have been in public relations or an actor or employed by Bonneville at the time the tape was made) to purchase or rent for his “true love” all of the items enumerated in the holiday evergreen tune, “The 12 Days of Christmas” (starting with “a partridge in a pear tree,” “two Turtle Doves,” etc.). Mr. Richman is recorded calling around to various businesses and institutions in search of said gifts. The ensuing conversations with seemingly unsuspecting parties on the other end of the line are always amusing, even sometimes laugh out loud hilarious, such as the one with a representative at the British Consulate, who responds to the request for “ten Lords a-leaping” by apprising Mr. Richman that in order to get the House of Lords to leap “you would have to wake them up first.” Interspersed with the phone calls are interviews with a charming group of young tykes (whose descriptions of Santa Claus’s appearance are one of many sweet moments made all the more striking by being so disarming) and unforgettably with department store Santa Tony Zucca. Clearly a genial man with a warm, personable manner, Zucca tells a poignant anecdote about visit from a sad child, whose despair was rooted in a recent tragedy. Taken aback, Zucca quickly regrouped and, in a flash of inspiration, offered the lad a bit of wisdom for the ages. The humility in Zucca’s retelling never fails to choke us up, all these years and innumerable playbacks later. A Google search finally did uncover Zucca, in a 1992 story published in Salt Lake’s LDS-owned Deseret News headlined “Santa’s Present to Season Is a Joyous Presence”; 14 years later, in the Deseret News’s August 24, 2006 issue, an obituary announced the passing of one Anthony “Tony” Zucca. In an obit (now posted on Legacy.com), Zucca is identified as having been born in Duchesne, Utah, on November 28, 1935, as having married “the love of his life, Donna Jones” on May 26, 1959, with the couple’s 47-year union producing five children. “Tony faced so many challenges in his life,” the obit reads. “Due to diabetes, he lost both his legs. Tony was a great inspiration to all that knew him. He always had a sense of humor and he loved everyone. Even during all his trials and tribulations, Tony was everyone’s hero. Tony never complained and he loved to tell stories and jokes.” It adds: “The family appreciates the loving care of all Tony’s doctors especially the LDS heart center.” If this is indeed the Tony Zucca we hear reflecting on his role as Santa Claus on “Our Christmas Best to You,” then let us point out that there was nothing wrong with his heart.
Click here to listen to “Our Christmas Best to You”
Apparently no one now at Bonneville International was also on board in the late ‘80s when this tape was sent out as a media-only holiday thank-you. It’s safe to say you’re unlikely to hear it any place else but here at Deep Roots. Take a moment to check it out; maybe it will become a holiday must in your home as it is in ours. Perhaps you’ll join your faithful friend and narrator in finding its message should be heard all year ’round, not only during the Yule season. If you like it, please share it with others.
From our Deep Roots house to yours, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! –David McGee