A fesruce Robert Drake at his desk at WXPN | Photo by his iPhone

It was 20 years ago when WXPN came to me, with those puppy-dog eyes, hoping that I’d fill in on December 24. Seems no one was available, and in those days before digital, you needed a body to oversee any programming.

What a lot of people don’t know is that I volunteered to work that Christmas Eve back in 1993 since it was the first Christmas after the sudden passing of my dad, Robert Sr. that summer.  I figured being on the air would be easier than being home alone.  That first show was hard for me – but the amount of calls I got on the request line really changed my perspective about the holiday and about the power of radio.

I guess what I didn’t realize before that night was just how much being on the air during Christmas Eve would mean to others – those frantically filling the final hours before Santa, or working the graveyard shift so that others can have the holiday off. Since that first show, I have developed friendships with listeners who have joined me faithfully each of my 19 years – I’ve never met these people – but I know their names, the names of their kids, some who have grown up with me every holiday and now have kids of their own. Since we’ve launched the stream, I get emails and texts from listeners around the globe each Christmas Eve – some far from home and others having discovered me via some blog or website link and listening from their little corner of the world.

Last year I helped a daughter studying in Paris wish her mom and family a Merry Christmas via the airwaves. Last week, while running errands in the city, a young woman approached and asked if I was Robert Drake. It was the daughter – home for the holidays this year and spending the day sightseeing with her mom (who recognized me and pointed me out to her daughter). We snapped pictures as she expressed excitement over this year’s show – “it’s not Christmas without Robert Drake” she said with a smile.

Sure , I won’t lie – it’s exhausting doing this show.  But I love it, and I hope you’ll have time to check in during my 24 hours this Tuesday, midnight to midnight.

So Merry Christmas to those celebrating – and regardless, if you find time on Tuesday – visit the website and fire up the Jingle Cam (now in HD!) and make sure I’m still awake.