In the summer heat, Tim Gray was planning decorations for Christmas.

A couple hours at a time, Gray, 50, programmed a light show set to Christmas music for his front yard, a project mimicking one his brother creates each year in Boise, Idaho.

After nearly a month of work hanging more than 15,000 lights on his house and in his front yard, the display was finally turned on Friday, and Gray got to see the fruits of his labor.

"I've done a little bit each day when I get off work," Gray said. "Pretty soon it's all done."

Strands of red, green and white lights frame each window and door on the front side of Gray's house at 313 Powder River Ave., on Bozeman's west side. Icicle lights line the roof. A star is fixed over the garage.

But the display is still a work in progress. As of Friday, Gray said he still had to hang lights on the front two trees and install a light-up Frosty the Snowman and deer in the yard.

"The trees are programmed in, but it got so cold I haven't been able to put (the lights) up yet," he said.

Gray said he has eight or nine songs, all about two minutes apiece. With an introduction, songs play in a roughly 20-minute loop.

Gray uses software that allows him to design how each individual strand of lights turns on or off in time to music. He estimates about eight hours of time spent for each minute of the display, or 60 programming hours.

A USB cable connects his computer to controller boxes near the house. Sound is broadcast by an FM transmitter to car radios outside and to a speaker near the sidewalk.

Both the introduction and a sign in the front yard with 500 lights, tell drivers to tune their radios to 90.1 FM. The introduction then instructs drivers to turn off their lights, be courteous of the Grays neighbors and avoid blocking driveways and mailboxes, and reminds them of the reason for the season.

"From the Gray's, we wish you a very Merry Christmas," it says.

While the lights themselves are pretty, the music is what makes the display special.

"If you just look at the lights and don't hear the music, it doesn't make any sense," wife Ethel Gray said.

The family loves the display and the music, though they've been listening to the same set of songs over and over for months.

"They're fun," Ethel Gray said. "Even if we've been hearing them since July."

Because the music is broadcast over the airwaves within range or just coming out of the one small speaker for people walking by on the sidewalk, it's not intrusive to the neighbors.

"It's not like it's blaring all night long," Ethel Gray said.

In fact, neighbors have been helpful, loaning ladders to help hang the higher lights Ethel Gray said.

The couple's two kids called the light show "cool."

Lights are on at the Gray's house from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5:30 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, raising the Gray's power bill slightly for the Christmas season. Last year, the power bill was about $30 extra in December.

"You definitely use a lot of electricity, but not as much as you would think," he said.

Despite the extra money, plus all of his time, Tim Gray said he is happy to have such a visual display of his Christmas celebration. Plus, next year, much of the work will already be done.

"After this year, it won't be so bad," he said.

Rachel Hergett may be reached at or 582-2603.



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