So You Went All-Christmas… Now What?


(By Mike McVay) Christmas is over, but the holiday season continues. Welcome to what they call “Boxing Day” in Canada and the United Kingdom. It’s when people return gifts. (Thus that name.) In American radio, we call it “the day programming returns to normal.”

Many radio stations wrapped their “All Christmas, All the Time” format at 12a this morning. The songs of the season are again placed on hold until November ’24. Now stations that employed the Christmas Tactic will be anxiously awaiting the rating results from the fall sweep and the Holiday monthly to know if it was as successful as they anticipated.

We know, proven by research, that a portion of the audience leaves when the Christmas Tactic launches – the gambit being that All-Christmas draws in another audience, typically unseen throughout the rest of the year. If the Tactic is executed properly, this second audience increases ratings enough to both offset departure losses and then add growth before the clock strikes midnight on December 26. In this case, an expiration date is good. Listeners who leave because they dislike the Christmas Tactic know that on 12/26 it’s over and they can return.

Those who executed the Tactic in a way that engaged the audience, enticed merchants to use their stations as the soundtrack of the season in their store, and saw inflated listening levels as memories were rekindled with music, will be celebrating when ratings return.

However, a crucial question to be asked as a part of the reflection on the tactic is, “Did you take full advantage of the cume that visited the station over the holiday season?”

You should have also reminded the cume that’s only visiting what it is that you do the other 11 months of the year. Did you play promotional and imaging messages that put your regular format on display and showcase your most high-profile personalities? The inflated cume you have is an opportunity to convert listeners from other stations and bring them to yours. 

Did you play the biggest most memorable traditional Christmas classics in a regular rotation? Did you create a Superpower category that treated turnover like a CHR/Top 40 does and did you showcase those songs keeping them connected to your station branding? When you played new music, did you identify the artist, manage the rotations, and surround it with big, well-known songs?

Did you use imaging to own the tactic? Your station’s imaging should have been produced and presented in a way that there is no question that you OWN Christmas. It is your holiday. Artist and celebrity endorsements go a long way in giving you ownership.

Did you sell special advertising packages that reflect the larger audience by raising rates for the Christmas Tactic? If you’ve executed the format over multiple years, you have a track record that shows your ratings spike, and that should equate to a higher rate being charged to advertisers for the month of December and the Holiday month. Remember that in Nielsen, the December 2023 month was November 9 – December 6 and the Holiday Sweep was December 7 – January 3. 

The final step of your evaluation: was there a marketing package that reached more than your own listeners? It could be on your sister stations, on your website, digital marketing, cable TV, or perhaps gateway ads on podcasts or streaming apps. If you want to excel at the Tactic and use it to expose your regular format to a large audience, market the Christmas Tactic. 

If a radio station fell in the woods and it wasn’t marketed, did it make a sound?

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]. Read Mike’s Radio Ink archives here.


  1. How come no one counter programs a “Bah, Humbug” format with lots of gusto and tongue in cheek liners…. I’m sure a callous rocker somewhere must have done this??

  2. One of my biggest aggravations is when radio stations dump Christmas music cold at 12:01 AM going into December 26. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is still the Christmas season; in fact, it is the heart of the Christmas season. We are visiting friends and relatives and religious observances during that week are tied to Christmas, as it is the Octave of Christmas. We don’t take down our trees or decorations on the 26th, so why can’t we hear some nice Christmas music on the radio? This is the week when I turn my radio off and either listen to recorded Christmas music…or nothing. To answer Mav3rick (above), the one AC station that did not go all-Christmas is not being like Scrooge…it’s just doing some counterprogramming. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But, for those stations that did go all-Christmas: At least play SOME Christmas music until New Year’s Eve.

  3. There’s no doubt that Christmas does an incredible job of increasing numbers. All of what Mike includes here is (imho) worthless if two things are ignored. . .
    A: Treating Christmas as a new “format launch” every November. To us it’s just a shift in programming. To the listener it’s a NEW STATION! One they may love. This would include contests, outside marketing-treating it as if it’s the best thing the market has ever experienced.

    B: Spending time (and resources) in fixing up what the listener will hear AFTER the Holiday Extravaganza. To the Christmas listener, the “old” format returning can be something new for them. It’s another launching pad for a great marketing campaign and promotion.

    Ahh- -then I woke up. I forgot. It’s 2023 and the market is psychic and knows about all of the wonderful things your station does. (Sarcasm intended).

    The brilliance of Mike McVay (and his counterparts) is hard to dispute. Whether radio listens or not-another story.

  4. I think the bigger question here is, when listeners turned off the all Christmas station and flipped to your station, what did you do to keep those listeners full time after the holidays? I worked at a station where we were one of 3 types of AC stations. Has we gone all Christmas, there would have been 3 all Christmas stations. So I focused on having those listeners who made the switch to stay.


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