Christmas Tree

The overall response to the familiar sounds of Christmas songs on radio stations across a pandemic-weary country can be summed up in feedback from a Bonneville AC KOIT San Francisco listener, who wrote, “My spirits instantly brightened. It is just what I needed.” Director of Programming Brian Figula, who shared the message, tells Inside Radio the response to the station’s annual flip to all-Christmas is stronger this year. “I sense that Christmas music will be an even bigger escape this year compared to years past.”

With less than two weeks to go until Santa comes down the chimney, the number of all-Christmas music stations has already exceeded the previous record of 529 set in 2014, according to the Inside Radio/Precision Trak database. Not all that surprising coming at the end of a brutal year for everyone. “An election year and a pandemic?” Figula posits. “A recipe for ‘we need a little Christmas’ for sure.”

“With everything that has been going on in the world this year, people are longing for a sense of normalcy and some positive things in their lives,” adds Steve Salhany, Brand Manager of Beasley Media Group AC “Magic 106.7” WMJX Boston.

“We all need a respite from the extremely difficult year, and Christmas music provides that,” says Cat Thomas, Brand and Content Director at Hubbard AC “Warm 106.9” KRWM Seattle. “It’s happy, it’s fun, and it warms your heart.”

Christmas music takes “listener’s minds off of 2020, even for a part of their day,” Todd Stach, Way-FM, Network Program Director, observes.

While commercial radio and the AC format lead the pack when it comes to the number of stations that go all-Christmas, contemporary Christian is usually second. “For us, it’s more than ‘holiday music,’ it’s the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of a Savior,” Stach states. More than 20 Way-FM stations made the flip to all-Christmas on Thanksgiving night.

The appeal of Christmas music has always been the sense of nostalgia it conjures up in listeners’ minds, and that may be truer this year. “It reminds us of better times and makes us remember loved ones who we’ve lost and to love more those that are still with us,” Mike McVay, President, McVay Media Consulting notes. “This year, because of the pandemic, anything that makes you feel good is a positive. Christmas music is comfort food for your ears.”

That comfort food usually adds some fat to a station’s ratings. This year, with so many stations going all-Christmas earlier than usual, ratings bumps as big as Santa’s belly will likely be seen in both Nielsen’s December (Nov. 5-Dec. 2) and the Holiday (Dec. 3-Jan 6) PPM surveys.

Last year, WMJX posted a 15.2 (6+) in the Holiday book, up from a 14.5 during the same period in 2018. “I anticipate it being just as good, if not better than it has been in past years, based on the response,” Salhany says.

Figula also anticipates a December to remember. “KOIT just had its best momentum ever going into the December book,” he says. “I suspect an above average performance for December and some record shares for the Holiday book.”

Across the nationwide Way-FM network of stations, Stach believes “the engagement this year will be deeper and the ratings should reflect that.”

Thomas is hopeful for the best, but is ready for a slight decline. “The only reason I mention a decline is because we’re not going to get the all-day office listening that we normally get,” he explains. “Hopefully we get the at home/at work listening. We’re doing imaging that relates to the different workplace environment.”

McVay has a bold prediction for ratings for all-Christmas stations. “I believe this will be the best and biggest year for all-Christmas [stations] since the year we were hit with 9-11,” he states.

As expected, AC radio benefits the most, ratings-wise. Based on Nielsen’s Holiday 2019 PPM survey, the format rose to an average 14.8 share among listeners ages 6+, 13.8 Persons 18-34 and 13.8 Persons 25-54, all historic highs. The 2019 record-highs followed previous 6+ highs in 2018 (14.3) and 2017 (13.9).

What does McVay see in his holiday crystal ball for the AC format in 2020? “I’m projecting 20% increases over previous years.” – Jay Gleason