Charlie Cook On Air: Not Quite A Country Christmas

Charlie Cook

Charlie Cook

Each year at Christmastime radio gets thrown for a loop because so many AC stations flip to all holiday music. If you’re in the AC format this can be a boost in the ratings for your station. If you’re in another format you take a deep breath and just get through it.

If you’re in a diary market the impact has been lessened this year as the rating book ended on Dec. 4. If your competitor started Christmas music at Thanksgiving the influence was minimal to the Fall 2013 survey. Of course, Nielsen has segregated a lot of the music’s effect in PPM markets by designing a 13th month, starting Dec. 4 and going through New Year’s Eve.

I work with Country radio station stations, but I also work with AC stations here in West Virginia and a few consulting clients for McVay/Cook. Like most programmers, I listen to about 30 hours of radio a day. Thirty hours a day? Yeah the joke around the office is that I always have at least two radios on in my office and I am listening to two stations, then sometimes air checks and new music on a third source.

What I find every year is that I really like the all-Christmas stations. Program directors talk about “Oh Wow” songs. These are songs that we haven’t heard in a while but that are still immediately familiar to us. We easily fall into singing along when these songs come on the radio. Well that’s exactly what happens with Christmas Music on the radio and why it is so appealing. Nielsen points out that AC stations that change to Christmas programming increase an average 76 percent during the holiday season.

We haven’t heard “Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles in at least 11 months, but as soon as WVAF-FM starts playing it you start singing along. Christmas Music is everyone’s comfort food. There is a huge difference between Christmas music and music about Christmas. Compare “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby and “The Night Santa Went Crazy” by Weird Al.

Country radio is one of the formats that feels the heat from the format flip. Last week, Nielsen reported that Country stations take a 17 percent hit in the ratings for the Christmas period. Country is an adult format so this follows. Less than a handful of Country stations have tried the all-Christmas approach. KZLA/Los Angeles did it one year, and I don’t remember that it helped them much. In Los Angeles, KOST owns the image and KRTH has had a lot of success in the past focusing on the 60s-80’s artists doing holiday music.

In Kansas City, KFKF goes all-Christmas. I think that they are the only large market station to do so, but they have the advantage of being the only station to program all-Christmas in the city since the old AC in town dropped the format years back. Additionally KFKF’s sister station, KBEQ-FM, gives them a little cover for leaving the format for a month. If it were not for another Country station in the building they might not be likely to give WDAF the opportunity to be the alternative. And while KFKF plays Christmas music with a heavy Country music lean, they play a very wide non-Country list of Christmas music. Everything from Bruce Springsteen to TSO.

The need to stray from the format musically is probably why more Country music stations don’t attempt this format flip every year. There are one or two Country acts that release a Christmas CD every year, but there are not a ton of new Country Christmas releases each year. The most played Country-themed Christmas song this year on the chart is Phil Robertson and George Strait with “Hairy Christmas.” And, as I write this, it is only No. 68. In fact three of the top four Christmas songs are from that CD.

Not many stations are going to give up their position for Duck Dynasty. Not on the hair of your chinny chin chin.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow.)

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