There are those who are quick to get into the holiday spirit, and there are those who blog angrily about how they saw candy canes on the Wal-Mart shelves before Halloween. To satisfy those in the former group, radio stations have been jumping on the 24-hour holiday music train since the mid-1990s. To the disappointment of the latter, the trend is gaining momentum and starting earlier than ever this year.
“I have never seen a more successful, impactful and sustainable impact on ratings as all Christmas music,” said Dan Vallie, a consultant to New Jersey’s WEZW-FM and other stations across the country. This year, WEZW, also known as Easy 93.1, was the first radio station in the country to start airing 24-hour holiday tunes. They kicked off their nonstop broadcasting two weeks before Halloween.
According to the New York Times, the number of stations hyping the all-holiday format has nearly doubled in the last decade, and listening can increase by as much as 582% on Christmas Eve. They also point out that “competition between broadcasters often leads to stations turning earlier and earlier.”
This year, Pandora is pushing over 35 holiday-themed channels, and Sirius XM boasts 8, with one that is nonstop year-round. But the iHeartRadio Network has been plotting their attack all year. President Darren Davis said their all-holiday preparation usually begins in August.
“It’s about more than just the songs,” said Davis. “When you walk into a Hallmark store around the holidays, everything is Christmas – the carpet is Christmas, the window decorations are Christmas, it smells like Christmas candles and cookies. That’s the environment we try to create with our Christmas radio station.”
While most radio stations are racing to be the first, one UK station hopes to be the last. Starting today, Birmingham’s Free Radio 80s aims to set a new record as the first FM radio station to broadcast holiday tunes for 33 days straight.
Some broadcasters, however, are resisting the flip altogether. “It’s like Starbucks saying, ‘We’re not going to serve anything but peppermint lattes for the next six weeks,’” said Tony Lorino, program director for KZPT-FM in Kansas City, Missouri. “For those six weeks, a lot of people are going to come in and get peppermint lattes, but somebody else who’s just looking for their regular coffee is really upset.”