The All Christmas Radio Format is Big Business
In 2016, I wrote a story on the all-Christmas radio format for Nola.com. Stations have been temporarily flipping to an all-Christmas format since November 1 this year, and hundreds will go on Black Friday.
All-Christmas radio seems like a time-honored tradition, but the first documented station to go all Christmas is Phoenix, Arizona's 99.9 KEZ, which first did so in 1990. Magic 101.9 joined many stations around the country when it first made the change during the 2001 Christmas season after 9/11.
"Before then, first week of Christmas you'd play maybe one song an hour," Suter said. "Second week of December, you'd play two. As you'd get closer to Christmas, you'd play more and more. It would only be Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that were all Christmas."
The format is so popular with advertisers that the holiday season accounts for roughly a third of Easy 93.1's ad revenue for the year. Magic 101.9's ad time during the season is in such demand that it sells out by the end of July.
The format is lucrative because for every person who loudly bah-humbugs Christmas music, there are at least two or three people who quietly can't wait for for Christmas music. "Some stations will increase their audience by more than 50 percent," 106.9 Play's Collins said. "It's a dramatic jump for the stations that go all-Christmas."
Stations in the past have switched before Halloween on occasion, but as I discovered, the decision as to when to change is an intuitive one.
New Orleans' Magic 101.9 FM has streamed "The Magic of Christmas" since after Halloween, and somewhere between noon Thanksgiving and Friday morning, it will join more than 500 stations in America that play only Christmas music during the holidays. Changing Magic 101.9's format from Adult Contemporary to all Christmas would seem to be the sort of thing that stems from lots of planning, but according to program director Steve Suter, a lot of feel goes into when it starts.
"It depends a lot on the weather," Suter said. "It's not been a set time for a number of years."
Other stations' switch dates are similarly carved in sand. 106.9 Play in Louisville, Ky. made a name for itself by switching on or before Halloween in recent years, but this year it waited until Nov. 9, the day after Election Day. "We knew that a lot of people would be caught up in the election in one way or another," said operations manager Shane Collins. "We knew that as controversial and heated as this year's election was, people would be ready for relief the day after."
Easy 93.1 in Atlantic City is often among the first in country to switch, but it went later than usual as well and waited until after Halloween.
Gary Fisher owns Easy 93.1, and "until this year, for about seven years in a row, we were the first station in a row to go all Christmas," he said. "We used to go all Christmas as early as the middle of October." Hard times in Atlantic City and the decline in the gaming industry meant that there was less revenue in recent years associated with being first in the country. Because of that, Easy 93.1 listened to listeners who thought Christmas music before Halloween was too much and waited until November. Now he thinks he left money on the table.
"For the two weeks that we were not Christmas -- from Oct. 17 to Halloween -- we got several hundred people on our Facebook page and several dozen people calling the station asking, 'Where is the Christmas music? You always start on the 17th.'"
For the entire story, visit Nola.com.