The December rating sweep begins November 9th. A number of radio stations that plan to go 100% All Christmas will do so the first weekend of the December survey period. Nielsen, some years ago in a effort to level the playing field, created a Holiday Survey period and shifted the monthlies earlier than the Gregorian calendar that we use today. That is to say that the rating service gave us a 13-month year. Which makes sense given the common thinking of a four-week month. All that to bring us back to November 9th and the start of the Christmas Tactic.
This year’s Christmas format looks as if it will be one of the most listened to in recent years. Historically we’ve seen spikes around life altering situations. The opportunity to escape life’s crisis and go to a happy place by listening to Christmas music is attractive to many. It provides an escape. We saw such rating spikes after 9-11. It happened again in December 2020 when we were in year one of a multi-year pandemic. The world is in a place that begs for such a respite as hearing Christmas Music.
Some despise the tactic of playing 100% Christmas music as they believe the change to All Christmas is a format change. I would argue that it isn’t a format change. It is a tactic. If you are the station that’s known for playing 100% Christmas music, then it’s another part of your on-going music format. It is the one time when a dramatic music shift can bring an audience to your station that never listens any other time of the year. It’s also a tactic that ends at a time when the audience that left knows it is safe to return as a listener.
Adult Contemporary stations seem to be the most successful with the All-Christmas tactic. There are some exceptions that I can point to like Classic Hits and Classic Country stations. Some in those formats have done well by playing All Christmas Music, All the Time. Many stations that flip to All Christmas also add a Scrooge Channel to their website or on their app, which is where your loyal listener who doesn’t want to hear All Christmas Music can hear your regular format. It could keep them away from your competitor.
It’s a great time to promote what you do for the other months of the year. All Christmas is a cume magnet. Promote your regular programming frequently as you may be able to convert new listeners by advertising your programming on your own station. Make your on-air talent spokespeople for the station. Produce music collages that put your regular format on display. Create and air audio bytes that showcase your personalities by showing off some of their best segments.
The key to winning is to play the Christmas Classics, over-and-over again, just like a Top-40 plays its biggest currents. Create a superpower category for the Original Classics, power category, regular category, and lunar category. Put the instrumental songs into their own category. That will enable you to manage how frequently you play those songs. The currents that work best are covers of classics, which gives you a feeling of variety, although there is the occasional original Christmas song. Unfortunately, that’s not what your listeners are looking for as the audience loves the classics.
My recommendation is to hold-off on the overtly religious songs, like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” or “O’ Holy Night,” until you’re a week before Christmas. Schedule them once every two hours. Keep them distanced on-air so that you don’t alienate a part of your audience. Be conscious of your content into and out of a song that is religious in nature.
Production, imaging, promotions and contesting round out the product. Using holiday sounding jingles, special imaging that includes sleigh bells, artists 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 for when you throw-the-switch to All Christmas. These things create a warm feeling and emphasize the spirit of Christmas. You’re creating an atmosphere. The station should sound like Christmas.
Alter your website, the appearance of the station app, your social media accounts and postings and external marketing to be representative of the Christmas season. Some stations post a Countdown to Christmas clock on their website. Stations will use holly, mistletoe, and where appropriate the image of snow, to further the illusion that your station is the official radio station of Christmas.
The message to your air talent is that they should present their program as they have always presented it regardless of the music they’re playing. Don’t change the delivery of the talent. Don’t eliminate benchmark bits or alter segments. You can create new holiday features, like reading letters to Santa or bringing on a Christmas Shopper to talk about deals, but don’t suddenly present a different show. You want this “visiting audience” to like who they hear and make your station a regular destination.
Involve your sales department and encourage them to alert advertisers and potential clients the history of your stations’ audience growth. What a great time to swell the stations coffers by charging a premium for the exposure that advertisers get when the station may have the largest audience of the year. ‘tis the season of giving … and taking.
Merry Christmas … and to all a good rating sweep.