Lost and now found: 70 years of family history, thanks to Centralia’s ‘Magic Radio Santa’

Dec 13, 2023, 10:23 AM | Updated: 1:10 pm

Magic Radio Santa...

Jim Hudson, whose letter was read on the 1950 "Magic Radio Santa" program, shared these photos of his brother Timmy (behind car with cowboy hat, Christmas 1950), and of himself and Timmy (sitting on the floor with grandma behind); Timmy with an uncle at Hood Canal in 1949; and the two brothers sitting in chairs with their mother behind. (Courtesy Jim Hudson)

(Courtesy Jim Hudson)

Seattle’s Morning News replayed one of my vintage Christmas features one day in December 2021: It’s a piece from December 2018 about Centralia’s “Magic Radio Santa,” who, from the 1950s to the 1970s, would read letters to Santa written by local kids over the airwaves of radio station KELA.

One of the kids whose letter was read on the old 1950 recording I had found – with help from John Jenkins of Bellingham’s SPARK Museum – was 7-year-old Jim Hudson, who asked for presents for himself, as well as for his brother, who was serving in the Korean War.

“And here’s a nice letter from, let’s see, this is from Chehalis or Centralia. It’s from Jim Hudson,” says Santa on the scratchy old recording. “He wants a sailboat, a Red Ryder BB gun, a basketball, and he says, ‘Bring my big brother Eugene something, too. I think he might be home for Christmas. He is in Korea. And please bring something for my two big sisters, Edna and Temple, and maybe some perfume or hair lotion.’”

As I wrote in 2018: “The Korean War had just begun that summer of 1950, and big brother Eugene Hudson was, apparently, already in the thick of it. How I’d love to know how Eugene fared in that tour of duty.”

Spoiler alert: Eugene made it back and lived to the ripe old age of 90 before passing away in 2021; Jim’s younger brother Tim – “Timmy” on the old recording – also recently passed away.

Jim Hudson of Tumwater didn’t hear KIRO Radio’s original broadcast in December 2018, but he heard the rebroadcast. Back in 2021, I spoke with the then 78-year-old Jim Hudson, who had no idea the old recording existed or that the “Magic Radio Santa” was a fixture in Centralia for decades.

A lot has changed for Jim Hudson and his family since 1950 – and even in the past few years – but I’m grateful to him for sharing photos and memories – and plenty of laughs – about his siblings and the “Magic Radio Santa” experience of more than 70 years ago.

Special thanks to Steve Richert for his assistance with the original story and to Chris McCord for helping connect KIRO Radio with Jim Hudson.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Lost and now found: 70 years of family history, thanks to Centralia’s ‘Magic Radio Santa’