Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Santa Claus is Coming to…a Radio Near You

You better watch out. Thanksgiving is next week, and you might hear Christmas music on the radio without warning, all Christmas music that is.

Maybe I’m overreacting because things have calmed down since several years ago. I remember hitting the Peach 94-9 button one October and hearing a Christmas music preview weekend. (Or maybe that was one of the years when they weren’t supposed to say Christmas, so it might have been a holiday music preview weekend.) The temperature outside was in the mid-eighties, and I was not ready for what I was hearing; although I recognize that people in places such as South Florida are used to that.

When I was a kid, stations started adding Christmas songs right after Thanksgiving and increased the number per hour as the weeks wound down toward the big day. Soon after that, most formats played virtually no Christmas music for years. Then, in the middle of this decade came the onslaught.

It seemed to start innocently enough. I believe our late beloved Peach 94-9 was one of the pioneers in the new age of Christmas ditties. Around the early 2000’s, the station added holiday songs in season, and by that I mean after Thanksgiving. The songs fit just fine with Peach’s soft AC format. And a funny thing happened on the way to the Arbitron book; the numbers showed a meaningful increase.

The following year, Music Director Steve Goss was quoted in the AJC mentioning Peach would be all Christmas following Thanksgiving. The ratings hit the stratosphere, and wall-to-wall Santa would become a staple at AC stations around the country. AC’s were going all Christmas faster than that darn reindeer ran over grandma.

With audiences at a high, Peach and its musical brethren announced a holiday rate card that was no pre-Christmas sale. And retail advertisers have always known that holiday music put customers in a mood to jingle their change.

That the radio world knew all-Christmas music meant big ratings and big money for AC’s would cause craziness to erupt. In markets having more than one AC, the race was on to become the first holiday music station. The thinking was once radios were tuned to a Christmas outlet, they would stay there. This led to Christmas music playing while pumpkins were being carved. Correctly guessing when to go all holiday called for a panel of the nation’s leading radio minds.

Some oldies stations joined their AC competitors by digging out the Phil Spector, Chipmunks and Bobby Helms CD’s. Stations planning to change formats rocked around the Christmas tree as a transition to their new sound.

The insanity continued into January, when the fall Arbitrons were released. Salespeople tried to pawn off their Christmas numbers as the ratings for the coming spring. Competing stations were fast to point out the “Christmas kiss” enjoyed by the opposition. Arguments ensued about exactly when the competition ramped up its holiday playlist.

Some stations have already embarked on their all-Christmas marathon. One controversy that’s being thrown around is how all Christmas music will work in a down economy. Some say it makes people feel better, but others say it feeds depression. And this all started so harmlessly about 6 years ago.

Several years back here in Atlanta, B98.5 surprised a lot of folks, including most of its employees, by turning all Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving; after having ceded the Christmas audience to 94.9 for a couple of years. Of course, we all know B98.5 has been “your home for the holidays for 50 years.”

These days, little mystery exists as to what will happen. The odds are that 104.7 The Fish will start its Christmas music around Monday, November 23, and B98.5, which doesn’t really consider The Fish as direct competition, will make the move that Friday, November 27.

I’m looking forward to the holiday songs. Long ago, I came out of the closet as a Jewish guy who likes Christmas music. I was relieved, and the family didn’t disown me.

If we don’t talk until after Thanksgiving, enjoy the turkey…and of course the Christmas music on the radio.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

1 comment:

  1. It wouldn't be so bad if you didn't hear different versions of the same song every hour. Or if there was little more diversity in the playlist.