How much Christmas is too much Christmas? I’m one of the original play Christmas early guys; always loved programming the season, particularly since I moved over to work in the Country format about a third of the way through my career. When I got into the business shortly after the Stone Age, Top 40 radio stations didn’t begin playing Christmas music until about a week prior to the day. Only Muzak did All Christmas All The Time.
Many stations would switch to all Christmas music at 6:00 PM Christmas eve, run with it until 6:00 PM on the 25th. Very few stations continued playing seasonal music after Christmas day. As a disc jockey I was quite aware of the phone requests that continued to come in through the holiday for the Brenda Lee song, Chuck’s “Run, Rudolph Run”, Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” and those great songs from the Phil Spector Christmas album.
Shortly after I got behind the wheel as program director, I began to play Christmas music on Thanksgiving day. The GM would have asked why so early? I would’ve said something like: All the decorations are up in the stores. The muzak in those stores is all Christmas. The two days after Thanksgiving are the biggest shopping days of the year. The holiday specials are on the tv networks. People are in the spirit, looking towards it, making plans. Makes sense to get the Christmas favorites into the mix early and now.
We could tell it worked. The sales guys starting getting favorable comments from our advertisers. Christmas song requests moved to the top of my weekly request-line tallies. It wasn’t until the early 80s when I got to PD a station in a continuously measured market. Now understand, Arbitron stopped measuring the second week of December, but we could get “weeklies” see numbers from the first week of December. That sub-set of numbers was based on very few diaries and the super-small in-tab would have a very wide margin of error, but I did see a bump in the numbers for that first week of December every year. Same thing in all the following markets I worked.
It was very easy to mix seasonal songs into a Country mix because so many of the songs sounded like the could have been hit singles had they been ‘regular’ records. Indeed, Alabama’s “Angels Among Us” was a hit single; it charted TWICE; January ’94 and again in January ’95. Alan Jackson’s “Honky Tonk Christmas” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Hangin’ Round the Mistletoe” and The Tractors’ “Santa Claus Boogie”. If all those aren’t in your local Country station’s Christmas mix, the PD’s missed a trick.
I haven’t kept up with the Christmas releases on the Pop side. Maybe they’ve got a lot of songs that have hooks and have the sound and feel of many of the songs the station’s regular playlist. Good on them if they do.
Now, I say all that to say this. I’ve begun to observe some media comments, some columns, some social media posts where some folks are seemingly about to puke with it all. “Enough, already!” I don’t think it’s a movement yet and I’ve no plans to alter my Christmas formatting tactics. But with almost all markets having at least one station switch to All Christmas sometime in November, with the channels on Sirius, and with so much of it being fed to people from other sources, I do think it wise to hone-in on just the very few most-attractive, most hooky songs you have to offer. Going into the season this year, there were 50 songs on my Power Country Christmas list. I’m pulling it down to about 30. Those I judge to be the absolute best are going to get all the exposure.