Paul Lowe will see your inflatable Santa and illuminated nativity scene and raise an extravaganza of thousands of lights, timed to the tunes of more than a dozen popular Christmas songs that he broadcasts on his own neighborhood-only radio station.
Lowe, 45, has put up lights timed to music for the past two years at both Christmas and Halloween in Tatton Place, a neighborhood in southwest Cary. This year, he’s up to 52,000 light bulbs and counting on his property at the corner of Billingrath Turn Lane and Burgwin Wright Way.
Several dozen people stop by each day to see the lights, including at least one carload from as far away as Greensboro, Lowe said. They’re on every day from 5-10 p.m. until Jan. 1.
“I have two high school daughters who are alternately proud and embarrassed,” Lowe said.
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It started, as most large holiday light displays do, as an effort to outdo his neighbors.
He thought about doing inflatables, he said, but quickly realized his yard was far too small to keep up with the Joneses around Wake County.
“There’s a guy out in Apex or Morrisville with like three acres,” Lowe said. “I can’t compete with that.”
So he went with lights and decorations and decided to add the musical element, too, to get that wow factor.
Lowe had originally planned on doing only a Halloween display, he said, but peer pressure got to him.
“Everyone who stopped by was like, ‘Wow Paul, I can’t wait to see what you do for Christmas,’ ” he said. “So I was like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to figure something out.’ ”
Now, he has spent hundreds of hours programming the lights to flash, spin and swell perfectly in time with music ranging from epic Trans-Siberian Orchestra instrumentals to classics such as “Frosty the Snowman.”
“This let me merge my inner computer nerd ... with some old-school electrical and mechanical engineering,” said Lowe, who studied engineering in college but now works in sales.
He found an FM radio station that’s normally dead air and bought a low-frequency transmitter that lets him broadcast his own 15-song play list in a 1,000-foot radius of his house.
He does it to avoid blasting speakers on the lawn and angering neighbors, although he said he will put out speakers if large neighborhood groups come by on foot.
In addition to the hours spent on programming and setting up the display, Lowe also has spent thousands on lights. He wouldn’t say exactly how much, citing fears of his wife reading it in the paper, but he said he found ways to cut down on costs.
Mostly, he said, he buys $2.50 boxes of 100 lights each from Home Depot. The trees and singing faces are all PVC pipe and cheap rebar. And since the whole setup requires more than a mile of extension cords, Lowe simply made his own out of a massive spool of wire.
‘Taking over the neighborhood’
Americans go so wild with Christmas decorations that, according to NASA, suburban areas appear 30 to 50 percent brighter from space between Black Friday and New Year’s Day.
If satellites were to zoom in on Tatton Place next year, they might find even more pulsating musical light displays.
“He showed me this one video of a whole block, like 16 houses, that were all hooked up,” said Lowe’s neighbor, Andy Bagwell. “I think he plans on taking over the neighborhood.”
Bagwell would know. His yard already has been annexed by Lowe, who used a wireless transmitter to sync Bagwell’s lights to his own.
Both men said they had considered sending one of their kids into the sewer tunnels beneath their street to physically hook up the lights at their two houses, which are separated by an intersection.
“But no, our wives would kill us,” Lowe said. “So we went wireless.”
Bagwell said forming a wireless connection turned out to be much easier than sending a child into a sewer with a headlamp and extension cords.
And as long as Lowe does his display, Bagwell said he will continue lending his yard.
“My kids were looking out the window (last year) saying, ‘Dad, our lights are boring, they’re just white. Why can’t we do something like his?’ So they were happy when we put it up this year,” Bagwell said.
Now, the Bagwells’ yard boasts a massive Christmas tree Lowe made. More than a story tall, it’s made out of 20,000 light bulbs that let it perform different patterns for various songs.
Even if the display doesn’t expand to even more lawns in the future, Lowe said he plans to keep expanding in his own yard. It’s a lot of work, but worth it.
“The best are the little kids in the neighborhood,” he said. “Because they have a billion questions.”