Family's display more than just lights

To the Marshall family, decorating their house for the Christmas season is more than just stringing up a few strands of lights on the roof.

Thanks to their son, Joey Marshall, who is majoring in mechanical engineering at Wichita State University, the elaborate Christmas light display is much more.

"It's computer controlled," Marshall said. "We have 200 different circuits that individually blink to different Christmas songs you can listen to on the radio."

The display features more than 2 1/2 miles of lights, about 450 strands. It also uses more than a mile of computer cable and 250 extension cords.

This is the third year the Marshalls have set up the computer-assisted display. Marshall got the idea after seeing a similar display on YouTube four years ago.

"I did some research and found out there is stuff you can buy on the Internet commercially that was way out of my price range," he said.

"I ended up finding a group of people on the Internet that do all the work from scratch. I worked with them to design the circuits. We're like an online community."

Despite its complexity, Marshall said the display isn't that complicated.

"Putting everything together is not really difficult, it just takes a lot of time," he said.

The Marshall family, all eight of them, and a handful of friends took about three weekends — and some weekdays in between — to set up the display. But Joey Marshall is not sure exactly how many hours the project took.

"We try not to keep track of how many hours we put into it because if we did, we probably wouldn't do it anymore," he joked.

Most of the effort is focused on the programming, not the construction.

"The most time-consuming part is actually the programming that syncs the lights to the music," he said. "You have to manually match up the lights to blink to the beat of the music."

Even with more than 45,000 lights, Marshall said the project wasn't costly to build or operate.

"We've purchased everything over the period of three years, so the cost isn't that high," he said. "As for running it, the electric bill is about the equivalent of running an air conditioner."