We’re less than three short months away from Christmas Day, and there’s already a station in Youngstown, Ohio that has made the switch to all Christmas music. Oh the humanity.
All this to say in just a short while a good number of Christian music stations will do the unthinkable, completely change their format for a month or longer. It really is a radical move if you think about it. I mean would Coca Cola stop making Coca Cola for the month of December and only produce eggnog flavored soda? Of course not, but that’s what makes radio different, we’re a part of people’s lifestyle and not simply a consumable product.
So, if people are thinking Christmas, Christmas, Christmas from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, giving them all Christmas music as a sort of soundtrack to their life doesn’t sound as ridiculous now does it?
In a recent Mark Ramsey research study, we found that 75% of all 25-54 year-old female radio listeners tuned into Christmas music at some point during the previous holiday season. And a whopping 90% of our station’s 25-54 year-old female P1 listeners did the same. If you’re not going Christmas, you’re missing an amazing opportunity to open your doors to new listeners in your community. If you’re not providing it, they’ll go find it elsewhere.
A lot of these radio listeners might never tune into a Christian radio station, but they will tune into a station playing Christmas music. We may be changing what songs we play on the radio during this time, but we’re still selling our brand, our encouragement, our inspiration, our family, our community. It’s an open house where everyone is invited, so make them feel welcome.
What are the advantages of going all Christmas?
You can own the image in your market. You can bring in a bigger cume during this time. It’s an open house for the station to many new people so put on your best. The vast majority of these “new ears” will not be familiar with our music or our artists. We make it a point to be 90% or more familiar to a non-CCM listening audience during the Christmas season. This means we’re playing a lot of classic Christmas songs and covers. We will play a few new, original Christmas songs by CCM artists, but they’ve got to sound like Christmas and really pop on air. And you want to hold on to those people after the jingle bells stop jingling and into the new year. December at KLTY is our time of year to really show the world who we are and why we do what we do. We’re a kind, compassionate station with a heart for the Lord and our community. We’re the antidote to the negativity on every other form of media. We highlight our Christmas Wish campaign during this time where we give back to those in need across the metroplex. We highlight some of our biggest songs that we play the rest of the year, with a snippet of the song. And while it may be an unfamiliar artist and an unfamiliar song we’ll equate it to a need we all have. For example, we run a sweeper that will say “All year long, the music you need to be encouraged”, and play the hook from Zach Williams “Chain Breaker”. Or “the music you need to be uplifted” and play “Known” by Tauren Wells.
What are the disadvantages?
There is a small portion of your P1’s that may seek CCM music elsewhere. If you’ve built your brand well enough the rest of the year, they’ll still tune in and out and will be back full time on December 26th. Another thing you could do is provide another stream or an HD channel to carry your normal playlist.
When should you go all Christmas?
It depends on the market. In most markets, right after Thanksgiving is a great time to go all Christmas. In some markets, it may be earlier. We’ve gone earlier before to combat the other stations in DFW that go all Christmas but most years we go the week of Thanksgiving or so. That is also when Christmas music listening really begins to increase.
If my station can’t afford Christmas music testing where can I find the top testing Christmas songs?
Stick with the hits. Everyone loves the classic and you can’t go wrong with those. Look at what other stations are playing. If you have access to Mediabase or BDS, check playlists from last season and current playlists and build your list around that. Don’t just look at CCM stations, look at the mainstream stations in your market. It’s also very important that you’re looking at your market. What works in Dallas may not work in Seattle, etc.
When there are multiple all Christmas stations playing the same safe list, where does differentiation come into play? And how?
We share Christmas music with a mainstream competitor (Star 102.1) and a CCM competitor (WayFM) but we do not share exact playlists. We’ll play classic covers by our artists that Star wouldn’t play and we’ll play classic or fun Christmas songs that maybe WayFM wouldn’t play. I would ask, how is your presentation? How is the flow of your music? Is it mostly familiar or unfamiliar? If it’s only CCM artists and more new than familiar, who are you appealing to? Also, what other things are you doing to promote your station? Give back campaigns, like our Christmas Wish really showcase the hands and feet of Jesus that your station can provide to the community. Your mainstream competitors don’t do that, or if they try they don’t do it well. Which reminds me of a local mainstream station that attempted to copy our Christmas Wish campaign a few years ago. They told a story of a man who had his car stolen and had to rely on a bicycle to bike 9 miles each way to work every day in the cold and rain. When his bike got stolen he was in danger of losing his job. So, the station got him a new car! No, actually they got together with a local bike shop and got him a new bike. **face palm** So in reality, they had a bike shop that had money to spend if they gave away a bike, and that’s how they filled it. Not very sentimental or heart felt. They can’t do what we do! You can also get an edge on your competition through digital marketing and contesting during this time.
If your market already has two or more outlets who are already well known for owning that lane, is there a point to being the third…the fourth…etc.?
That’s a great question. Maybe not. In a market the size of DFW, we’ve been Christmas station #3 many years. It has worked for us because of the size of the market. However, if you’re in a small market, a third station may not make sense. We have done it consistently since 2005, no other DFW station has done that. But if you think that even being #3 could get you enough new cume to hold over into January, perhaps it would be worth it for your station.
What about ramping up to all Christmas music later in the month?
I would ask what is your goal? I tried ramping up in 2016 and 2017 and it backfired on us. We had already lost the position by the time Black Friday came along. Get in early and you’ll get a lot of businesses to carry your station. You’ll get on the radar of folks before they take time off for Thanksgiving. Mike Blakemore in Atlanta does a big Christmas music kickoff usually with an artist and a big community event. I say make a big splash, go all in. If you’re simply ramping up, then maybe don’t go all Christmas until the week of Christmas.
Only you know what is best for your station. This info is to help you make those decisions you may already know you need to make. Do what works for your station in your market.
Program Director, KLTY
Mike Prendergast, Program Director for Salem Dallas’ 94.9 KLTY has been with the station since 2005, serving as PD since 2009. KLTY has long enjoyed success in Dallas/Fort Worth most recently achieving an overall #1 Persons 6+ this past October and setting a station record for share and another #1 this past January 2020. Mike married his high school sweetheart Teresa 23 years ago and has two daughters, 18 & 16, the oldest about to head off to college. When Mike is not working in Christian radio, he’s spending his time with family, with the Youth at church or trekking across the country seeking all kinds of severe weather including tornadoes, hurricanes, and thunderstorms.