Part of me dreads heading to the mall today because I suspect that the Christmas music has started.
Years ago, I worked at a radio station that also supplied background music to local malls. One of the evening announcer’s job was to change the big reels of tape at midnight on the machine that broadcast this music out to the local clients. It was amazing how often we got it wrong by putting the tapes on upside down. That resulted in an angry call from a mall manager complaining that all the music in his establishment was running backwards. Oops.
This was especially a problem from about November 15 on when we switched to Christmas tapes. You haven’t experienced Yuletide outrage until a mall manager screams at you because “Feliz Navidad” is operating in the wrong direction. We breathed a sigh of relief at 12:01 am December 26 when we went back to regular programming. Mall managers didn’t get as bent out of shape if they heard “Guantanamera” being played backwards.
Don’t get me wrong: Christmas music is fine. It’s just that with seven weeks to go, it might be a little early to make that transition. For some retailers, though, it’s almost never too early. The CBC reports that a Bed Bath & Beyond store in Florida was already playing Christmas tunes last week. Ugh. Too soon.
And it’s not just retailers. The New York Times points to WZEW-FM in Cap May County, New Jersey, made be the season’s first radio station to switch to an all-Christmas format–and this was two weeks ago. A week later, two stations in Alabama made the flip. Then came a station in Louisville. And by the time we get to Christmas, some five hundred radio stations across the US will be all Christmas, all the time.
It won’t be quite that crazy here in Canada, although the usual suspects will go all Yule shortly–if they haven’t already.
Why? Ratings. BIG ratings. Even the age of streaming music services, an all-Christmas radio station can suck in huge numbers of listeners during the all-important weeks leading up to Christmas. Ratings equals revenue–and December is a very, very important month. Let me explain.
Most radio companies work on a fiscal year that runs from September 1 to August 31. The first quarter–September-October-November–is often the most important of the year with Q2–December-January-February–being the weakest for sales. If you can get a big ratings bump through November and especially December, you set yourself up ratings-wise as a “must buy” station for those lean midwinter months. Playing Christmas music during November and December has proven to be the most effective way of boosting listener numbers.
An all-Christmas format isn’t an option for most stations, of course–can you imagine your favourite rock station doing that?–but for certain types of adult contemporary stations that thrive on at-work listening, it’s a no-brainer goldmine.
No point in fighting it, then. That’s why God made earbuds.