By Rob Wheary

SHAMOKIN - Many have said that Tom Kutza and the "helpers" who bring "Letters to Santa" to the airwaves have hearts of gold.

Now the tradition can be called golden as well.

The popular program, hosted by the longtime radio personality, began airing for the season at today, marking Kutza's 50th anniversary of hosting the show.

"When I started at WISL, the newsman, Jim Reilly, used to read the letters," said Kutza, 69, of the Elysburg area. "I thought to myself, if I got to do anything with the show, I would talk to Santa about being a part of it. Everyone is sending the letters to the North Pole anyway, so why not let him read them, not some announcer."

"The Morning Mayor" got his opportunity in 1961 and the show took off from there.

"We got more and more letters each and every year," he said.

The tradition continued until WISL went off the air in 1998. The News-Item, through Kutza and then-publisher Greg Zyla, brought it back, on the Internet, in 2003.

"The thought was we'd try it for a year or two," he said. "Before it was who could hear me in a 50-mile radius, but now this broadcast goes worldwide."

The show features Santa Claus reading letters from children, interesting facts about Christmas and friendly banter from Kutza, err, Santa Claus.

This year, visitors will see a redesigned site with the elves working on new technology to make the programs load faster, depending on your Internet connection.

On the weekends, programs will feature some of the Christmas music from Kutza's days at WISL, such as "Donde Esta Santa Claus," by Augie Rios, "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas" by Yogi Yorgesson, "Annie and Willie's Prayer" and the story of the Polish woman having trouble with her son's choo-choo train in "Little Red Caboose."

"Once the radio station was finished, I thought that's it for the show, and I found that the loss of 'letters' really saddened a lot of people," Kutza said. "Now we have two or more generations listening to the show together. People can listen wherever now, even in Alaska. It truly is a Christmas miracle."

About a week ago, Kutza made his annual visit to the North Pole to help set things up with Santa, and said that "the world's most famous senior citizen" is ready to talk to the boys and girls.

"I've never seen him this excited to get started with the program," Kutza said. "The letters are just pouring in and they are coming in earlier than ever. Santa loves hearing from the boys and girls and every letter just brings him a jolt of happiness."

Children young and old can log onto The News-Item's website at 10 a.m. to hear that day's episode.