Christmas Comes Early To Radio

The Christmas season seems to have started earlier this year. People started shopping earlier than in years past. Holiday displays went up in retail stores weeks before Thanksgiving and some people have already trimmed their trees. Some say it’s all because of the September terrorist attacks – people need cheering up.

The latest pick-me-up comes from the radio stations. More than 70 Clear Channel stations switched to all-Christmas music last week, earlier than usual because the terrorist attacks merited it. "It's a mood setter," says Sean Compton, Clear Channel's VP of programming. "People want to celebrate Christmas earlier this year because of everything that's happened and the music puts them in a good mood."

But not everyone is in a good mood. "We thought we bought Dido, Madonna and the Goo Goo Dolls, but instead we received Christmas with the Muppets," says Jon Hudson, a media planner at Rockett Burkhead & Winslow, a Raleigh, NC ad agency.

"Our belief is that an all-Christmas format will not attract the exact same listeners as the station's normal AC format," Hudson says. "It may be fine up to two weeks before Christmas, but starting before Thanksgiving will alienate loyal listeners and they will switch channels."

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Susan Taylor, a media buyer who works with Hudson, says she called her Clear Channel rep to find out why the changes were made so early and to get research data on the Christmas format. She hasn't received a response yet. She says she hasn't made any changes to her buys yet.

She's especially worried about a TV sweeps client she declined to name that made a heavy buy this week, running eight or nine spots a day. "I hate it when they get different programming with different listeners," she says.

While Hudson and Taylor fear a negative advertising impact from the Christmas music, some see it as positive. "What better way is there to get people out Christmas shopping," Compton says. "You need people to be in the Christmas mood and when you play Christmas music, it's successful."

Bob Bronson, operations manager for WRSN-FM, a Clear Channel station in Raleigh, claims audiences are higher with Christmas music. "It might double the cume, but we don't increase the rates. They get the same rates and more ears, they should be happy," he says.

WRSN, an AC station, has never gone to an all-Christmas format before. Usually, the station mixes Christmas music with its standard fare and plays more Christmas music as the holiday approaches. But this year was different. "There's an overwhelming desire from our audience to hear Christmas music," he says, attributing it to repercussions from the terrorist attacks. "There's more of a spiritual feeling in the community this year, people are more inclined to be closer to their family and their beliefs."

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