Grand Rapids High-tech Christmas display is up in Spring Lake

By Steve Kaminski

The Grand Rapids Press

SPRING LAKE, Mich. (AP) -- It started with a $5 bet, but anyone driving through Heather Court in Spring Lake this Christmas season must be wondering whether it was a wager that Brad Boyink won or lost.

Boyink, 42, is the mastermind behind Holiday Road Lights, an annual high-tech Christmas lights display that is synchronized to the sounds of the season.

A team of 150 volunteers helped him start stringing up nearly 300,000 Christmas LED lights around his home, 16204 Heather Court, on Sept. 1, plus 13 other houses in his cul-de-sac neighborhood.

He said his show is the second-largest neighborhood computerized display in the country. There is a 19-house display in Ohio.

"But when it comes to computer systems, we out-dwarf them," said Boyink, who uses 64 control computers for the show. "The amount of technology I'm running this year is by far the most of any private display in the country. This is the most technologically advanced show. I am running three wireless networks to handle everything.

"The numbers that we have in this display are just unheard of for (what) we are doing."

It might be March by the time they completely take down the display.

This project isn't cheap. Boyink has invested about $50,000 in computers, lights, decorations and props.

And if you think the outside is impressive, you should see what he has inside his garage: About 40,000 candy canes are stored away that will be given out to show-goers.

About that bet, though.

Remember when someone named Carson Williams put up a Christmas lights show around his home in Mason, Ohio, back in 2005, and it ended up on YouTube?

"Back in 2005, when Carson Williams' home in Ohio went viral, I had employees who thought it was fake, and I bet them $5 that it wasn't," said Boyink, a 1988 Grand Haven High School graduate. "I looked at it and examined the video, and I really didn't think it was.

"So, I started investigating it, found out that it wasn't fake and won the $5 bet. Once I realized how it was done, the following year I said, 'I've got to do this.' The geekiness came out in me. So I started buying things and getting controllers. I did my first show in 2006. It became a huge hit."

This year's show opened the day after Thanksgiving and will continue through Christmas Day. Boyink said he expects about 70,000 visitors to visit his street this holiday season. Spectators can drive or walk. Those who drive are asked to tune in to 88.1 FM to listen to the Christmas music as the show progresses. In all, it takes about 15 minutes to complete the show.

Boyink's home was the only house in the show in 2006, and it remains the main attraction. Boyink even has video screens planted on his home this year.

The congestion it created that first year convinced Boyink to move it to Harbor Island in 2007 and 2008. By 2009, though, he had his whole neighborhood signed on to take part, so he returned to Heather Court.

The show is free, although donations are accepted, and all proceeds will be donated to the Special Olympics.

Boyink raised about $140,000 for local charities in the first five years of the show. And all visitors receive a candy cane.

Boyink started playing around with computers when he was 10 years old. Now, he is co-owner of Meal Magic, a computer software company.

Don't call him an ordinary computer nerd, though, because he has an artistic side as well.

His grandfather, the late Bernie Boyink, was one of the founders of the Grand Haven Musical Fountain, and Boyink eventually helped his grandfather as a technical consultant.

Boyink finally found a way to mix two of his passions -- computers and music.

"Synchronization is something I have been doing for years, and this is just taking it to the next step," he said. "It's one of those things where I tell people that I hear music, and I can see (the light show). I can listen to a song, and I can envision what I want to do here with the music. It takes more than 100 hours per song to program all of this. It takes an incredible amount of commitment."

But the sacrifices, including a $250-a-month electric bill, are worth it, he said.

"This is one of the true essences of Christmas," Boyink said. "It is bringing people together, it is making people happy, and we are giving back to the community.

"To me, with all the hard times and everything that is going on, it's nice to do something that for 15 minutes out of someone's life they have a big smile on their face, and they are enjoying it."

Published: Wed, Dec 14, 2011