(Mike McVay) “This is Santa Claus, this is Santa Clausâ¦ just down Santa Claus Lane.” It won’t be long before you hear this song from Gene Autry, along with many original classics or covers, and some new original music. Skipping Halloween is a green light for many stations to switch from what they usually schedule to âAll Christmas, All the Timeâ.
The debate every year is whether you play 100% Christmas music on your station, and if so, when do you switch to the Christmas format? I’ve been involved in viewing stations that 100% go Christmas, or compete with those that do, for many years. The decision to go 100% Christmas, or not, is often hotly debated. Even to the point where the stations that have used the tactic successfully have the debate every year. No one likes the All-Christmas format except listeners.
Last year’s Christmas format, due to the pandemic, was one of the most watched since the Christmas season that followed 9-11-01. When the pandemic first took hold, we saw some radio stations deliberately programming Christmas music at night. He saw some audience spikes as the tactic eased the drama and despair of the daily news. I think its release in summer 2020 and fall 2020, given the growth in ratings it has had, confirms that All-Christmas Music Tactic will be successful again this season for 2021.
Some managers and programmers look down on this tactic because they think the switch to All Christmas is a change of format. I would say this is not a format change. It’s a tactic. If you are the station known to broadcast 100% Christmas music then this is another part of your current music format. You have set an expectation that must at worst be met and at best be exceeded.
Contemporary adult resorts seem to get the highest ratings when using the Christmas tactic. There are a few rare exceptions that I can point out in the Classic Hits and Country formats. Many stations that switch to All Christmas also add a Scrooge channel to their website, where your loyal listener who doesn’t want to hear All Christmas can hear your usual format. Although I wouldn’t call it Scrooge Channel on the air.
To those who fear losing audiences by going 100% Christmas, this is the one time of year when you can make such a change in programming and the audience knows when you’re done, so they can return to your station when you return to normal programming. It’s also a great time to promote what you’re doing for the other months of the year. All of Christmas is a fuck 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 playing the Christmas classics over and over again, just like a Top-40. Create a Super Power Category for the Original Classics, Power Category, Normal Category, and Lunar Category. Put the instrumentals in a category and manage how often you play those songs. The streams that work best are covers of classics, which gives you a sense of variety, although sometimes there is the original Christmas song. Unfortunately, this is not what your listeners are looking for.
My recommendation is not to listen to overtly religious songs, like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “Silent Night” or “O ‘Holy Night”, until you are a week before Christmas. Keep them off air so you don’t alienate part of your audience. Be aware of your content in and out of a song of a religious nature.
Production, imagery, promotions and contests complete the product. Using holiday jingles, special imagery that includes sleigh bells, performers 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 when you start the -pass to All Christmas. These things create a feeling of warmth and underline the Christmas spirit. You create an atmosphere.
When to flip the switch and go all Christmas is also a debate. Since Nielsen’s odds were moved earlier to negate the tactic, many stations have moved their start date earlier and earlier. The common sense start date is the day after Thanksgiving. The weakness of this late start date is that you have a short window to impact the third month of the fall sweep. The month of December is from November 11 to December 8. My preference has always been one to two weeks before Thanksgiving, starting this Friday. This year, it’s Friday November 12th.
Many have researched when to start the tactic. The audience tells you they want you to wait until after Thanksgiving. The notes show the opposite. There is a difference between an audience’s perception and their use of a radio station.
This year, given that I was expecting there to be a huge appetite for holiday music, I expect to see many stations making the jump long before Thanksgiving. Just in time to relieve your audience of the madness that unfolds daily in the media headlines.
Merry Christmas everyone, and everyoneâ¦ Good night.
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be contacted at [emailÂ protected]