(Mike McVay) “Here comes Santa Clause, here comes Santa Claus … right down Santa Claus Lane.” It won’t be long until you’re hearing that song by Gene Autry, along with lots of classics that are original or covers, and some new music that’s original. Getting past Halloween is a green light for many stations to flip from what they usually program to “All Christmas All the Time.”
The debate every year is do you play 100% Christmas Music on your station, and if so, when do you flip the switch to the yuletide format? I’ve been involved in consulting stations that go 100% Christmas, or compete against those that do, for many years. The decision to go 100% Christmas, or not, is often debated hotly. Even to the point where stations that have used the tactic successfully have the debate yearly. No one likes the All-Christmas format, except the listeners.
Last year’s Christmas format, because of the pandemic, was one of the most listened to since the Christmas season that followed 9-11-01. When the pandemic first took hold, we saw some radio stations purposely program Christmas music at night. It saw some ratings spikes as the tactic provided relief from the drama and despair of the daily news. I believe that airing it in summer 2020 and in the fall of 2020, seeing the rating growth that it did, validates that the All-Christmas Music Tactic will be successful again this season for 2021.
Some managers and programmers despise the tactic as they believe the change to All Christmas is a format change. I would argue that it isn’t a format change. It is a tactic. If you are the station that’s known for playing 100% Christmas music, then it’s another part of your on-going music format. You’ve established an expectation that needs to at worst be met and at best be exceeded.
Adult Contemporary stations seem to be the most successful in ratings when employing the All-Christmas tactic. There are some rare exceptions that I can point to in the Classic Hits and Country formats. Many stations that flip to All Christmas also add a Scrooge Channel to their website, which is where your loyal listener who doesn’t want to hear All Christmas can hear your regular format. Although I wouldn’t call it the Scrooge Channel on the air.
To those who are worried that they’ll lose audience by flipping to 100% Christmas, this is the one time of year when you can make such a programming change and the audience knows when you’re finished, so they can come back to your station as you return to regular programming. It’s also a great time to promote what you do for the other months of the year. All Christmas is a cume magnet. Promote your regular programming frequently as you may be able to convert new listeners by advertising your programming on your own station.
The key to winning is to play the Christmas Classics, over-and-over again, just like a Top-40. Create a super power category for the Original Classics, power category, regular category, and lunar category. Place the instrumentals into a category and manage how frequently you play those songs. The currents that work best are covers of classics, which gives you a feeling of variety, although there is the occasional original Christmas song. Unfortunately, that’s not what your listeners are looking for.
My recommendation is to hold-off on the overtly religious songs, like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night” or “O’ Holy Night,” until you’re a week before Christmas. Keep them distanced on-air so that you don’t alienate a part of your audience. Be conscious of your content into and out of a song that is religious in nature.
Production, imaging, promotions and contesting round out the product. Using holiday sounding jingles, special imaging that includes sleigh bells, artists wishing the audience “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” as well as your on-air staff recording similar greetings and making a big deal on-air for when you throw-the-switch to All Christmas. These things create a warm feeling and emphasize the spirit of Christmas. You’re creating an atmosphere.
When to flip-the-switch and go all Christmas also brings debate. Given that Nielsen ratings has moved earlier to nullify the tactic, many stations have been moving their start date earlier and earlier. The commonsense starting date is the day after Thanksgiving. The weakness in that late start date is that you have a short window to impact the third month of the fall sweep. The December monthly is from November 11 to December 8th. My preference has always been one to two weeks before Thanksgiving, starting on that Friday. This year that is Friday, November 12th.
Many have done research on when to start the tactic. The audience tells you that they want you to wait until after Thanksgiving. The ratings show otherwise. There is a difference between an audience’s perception and their use of a radio station.
This year, given my anticipation for there to be a huge appetite for Holiday Music, I expect to see many stations make the flip well before Thanksgiving. Just in time to give your audience relief from the insanity that plays out daily in the media’s headlines.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all … A goodnight.
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]