‘Tis the season to be jolly’, so they tell me; so it’s interesting to spot what the world of radio is doing to celebrate.
In 2013, UK radio veteran David Lloyd wrote a long piece about Christmas music on radio stations, showing one thing: that UK radio listeners expect Christmas songs to start at the beginning of December. Here we are, and ho ho ho, the Christmas songs have probably started. I’d expect the US to want Christmas songs before Thanksgiving, incidentally; and I’ve yet to hear any Christmas songs here in Australia on the radio. Heat and humidity makes songs about falling snow seem even more bizarre.
That said, Australia’s just launched a new radio station, Elf Radio, online and on DAB+, which promises to be Christmas all day long. In a press release the station claims it’s Santa’s favourite station – personally, I think he wants more Taylor Swift than Mariah Carey or Wizzard, but I might be way off the mark.
Keeping Christmas music on new platforms like online and DAB is also the thing for the UK, with Smooth Christmas – a brand extension of Gold AC station Smooth Radio – returning for yet another year. Some smaller stations, like Pulse in Yorkshire which once ludicrously employed me on drivetime, have also launched their own seasonal stations.
As ever, new platforms – particularly in regulated markets like Australia or the UK – are the place to find new formats.
The US, home of the format flip, has switched a number of stations over to all-Christmas music (which I can’t help but think has dire effects on listener loyalty, but that’s just the dumb Brit speaking – so many stations wouldn’t do a flip to Christmas songs if it wasn’t a ratings winner, I assume).
But by far the most interesting station, to me, is Ireland’s Christmas FM. A temporary FM licence allows the station to run (using volunteers only) for a month up until Christmas, and is available on FM frequencies in all major Irish cities. It’s a charity fundraiser, on behalf – this year – of the sick children’s charity Make-A-Wish. The station streams online too, and has bespoke apps for iOS and for Android phones, as well as being available on digital TV. And, unlike most of the above, it’s a live radio station from 7am to midnight, too: no voicetracking or presenter-free music here.
Since 2008, Christmas FM has earned over €500,000 (AU$730,000; US$530,000; R7.6 million rand) for charity. It’s a great idea, and one perhaps others might learn from. ‘Tis the season for giving’, after all.
James Cridland is a radio futurologist who concentrates on the impact of new technology on the business of radio.
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