Saturday, 18 November 2017

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

As 'Miss Snobb and Class 3C'  chorused the coda on Wizzard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday’ for the first time in 1973, those littl'uns likely did not envisage their song would still be aired on radio stations around the World more than 40 years later. But it is.  Alongside Slade, Jona Lewie and festive offerings from the repertoires of Chris Rea and Maria Carey.

Some happy-go-lucky jocks cannot wait to get stuck into their festive songs; others yawn. Programmers too are divided.  Some sensibly evaluate the tastes and moods of their audiences alongside their formats and brand values; other grey suits just seize a rare opportunity to take out their frosty miserableness on their listeners.

The Value of Festive Music

We know Christmas is a time when a lot of people get very happy.  Being Britain, we also recognise that those who are not happy thoroughly enjoy moaning about it.

We know too that music, particularly Christmas songs, affects people emotionally.  EMR qualitative research concluded: "For three quarters of people, Christmas music has a very powerful impact, helping to surface strong emotions - it remind them of happy memories".

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, disagrees - suggesting that festive tunes can impact on mental health. She agrees that music goes straight to our emotions and 'bypasses rationality', but fears that it simply brings on the worries of the duties and obligations to come. Linda suggests that shop assistants have to expend much energy in zoning out of the music which is being drip-fed to them.

John Lewis is predictably cheery.  Alongside the Coca Cola truck, the arrival of its TV ad has become a seasonal landmark. There's no doubting the emotions such campaigns stir, and no doubting the enthusiasm of viewers for exactly that feeling.  'On Brand', which works with some major UK brands and shopping centres, agrees with the power of Christmas music - and suggests that the retail Christmas begins on the 15th November and ends on Boxing Day. 

When thoughts of Christmas are evoked, listeners feel good – and feeling good is likely one of the reasons they came to you.  So much research over the years recognises that listeners value radio as it ‘cheers them up’. 'Mood' is an increasingly recurrent theme as an audience driver.

Impressive research from the RAB, the Radio Advertising Bureau, suggests people are happier when consuming radio, that when spending time with any other media.  And they are happier with radio than with no media, with happiness levels climbing 100% and energy levels up by 300%. 

So, what better music to play than a Christmas song?  The first chord whisks you back to your toddler times, Advocaat with grandma, or partying with friends.  And it reminds you of that end-of-term feeling: the rare period in life when you can be off work and the emails are not mounting up as everyone else is off too. 

You might imagine Steve Penk, of 'Radio Dead' fame might be a cynic, but, on Radio Today, he said:

"The reason I have always played Christmas songs early on the radio, throughout my career, both as a presenter and station owner, is because I always remember as a child instantly feeling Christmassy when I heard Christmas songs being played on the radio, and this feeling has stuck with me since being a kid.

When to start?
Heart certainly goes with the Sleigh List fairly early and, judging by what I judge their brand values to be, that’s eminently sensible.  The AC Gem 106 in the East Midlands revels promptly in the warmth too.  From what I heard of some BBC local radio stations in years past, however, they did not rush out with the tinsel tunes until Santa was stuck in the chimney just a week before. 
Research consultant Roger Wimmer asserts: "If you plan to play Christmas music and you give a rat’s tail about what your audience thinks, then you had better ask them. The only way to know the answer is to ask your own listeners".

Let’s remember that people are talking about Christmas in every workplace by mid November.  The Christmas party emails have gone out, and you’ve likely started to choreograph your Christmas with grandma, the kids and your ex husband.  By the start of December, it’s got to be time to nod to what your own listeners are feeling.  For the rest of the year, most listeners do not notice the odd song you have chosen not to play, but they do notice if you are not ‘sounding Christmassy’, and they will tell you so.

In some online research about shopping habits and the like, conducted  by the then Orion Media in 2013, we asked around 600 listeners when they wanted Christmas songs.  Yes, it‘s a flawed question in the wrong research methodology for this topic, but we tried the best we could.  Something along the lines of ‘when do you want to start hearing Christmas songs on the radio to help you feel festive, yet not so early so you get fed up with them?’.

I expected listeners to seize the opportunity to be miserable on a dull September day.  They didn’t.  Witness the graph of listeners aged 15-54 below, assembled by Orion Media's then hard-working head of research, Sophie Hancock.  That 'start of December' lead seems pretty decisive.

The identify of the listener's  P1 station choice appears not to make an appreciable difference to their views.  The demos do show variances; with even more of the younger demos wanting their celebrations to begin before December.  Amongst those 45+, however, the decisiveness of the 'beginning of December' vote leaps ahead even further than amongst all adults.  In fact, if you leave it any later than a month before you reach for Chris Rea, three quarters of your 44+ audience are going to be disappointed. 

If your music format allows it, why would you not want to spin a few Christmas songs at the beginning of December, enough for your P2s and beyond to catch one or two?  It also allows you to give some of your regularly rotated songs a holiday.

At the time of updating this blog (Nov 17th 2017), some songs are already  creeping up the UK Spotify chart (Maria Carey and Wham). Youtube too sees the Carey kick right at the beginning of November.

In the Philippines, streaming figures suggest the season starts on September 1st, with other countries not really joining in until November 1st.  Pre-Christmas listening of Christmas music surges at the weekend. 

Portland Radio Group suggests “It can never be too soon to deck the halls. And when it comes to Christmas music on the radio, it's never too early to begin the reindeer games”. EMR’s research in 2013 spoke to several hundred UK respondents aged aged 15-54. For 85% of people, they suggested, "Christmas without Christmas music wouldn't be as good".

My old friend, John Ryan, suggested that songs can burn quickly because every shop plays them. I know what you mean, John, but the tills of those retailers, year after year, probably give better indications about the success of a music policy than Rajar ever might.  Happy people spend money.   GaryStein, then at Key, cautioned sensibly “increase the Christmas music rotation slowly. We don’t go mad on the 1st of December.  When you go into a coffee shop on Christmas, you’ll get a special cup and maybe the ‘Ginger Bread Latte’but it’s just a variation”. True, there are format considerations. 

In the US, ‘Christmas Creep’ means some stations fight to be the first to play Christmas songs. Traditionally, it's the day after Thanksgiving - which places the start of the American festive season in late November. And let's remember it's still around 25 degrees in Arizona at that stage.

Others flip to all-Christmas formats, playing back-to-back Christmas music, with marked audience benefits in busy markets, a trend dating back to the mid '90s, but showing an upturn after the dark days of 9/11.  The audience figures there appear to bear out the format wisdom and it's thought to build cume. 168 US stations went 'all Christmas' in 2015. Tracy Johnson (TJMG) suggests a figure of 500.

In a New York Times article,  Gary Fisher from Equity Communications pointed to the benefits of the format flips: “Christmas music is comfort-zone radio for a lot of people”, “Given everything that has happened in Atlantic City and in South Jersey, this music really is a link to better times. That’s why we feel it works for us early”.

The UK has joined in too in recent years. Some are fresh stations, others re-purpose existing subsidiary channels. In the UK, Smooth Radio was one of the first to present an all Christmas format on a new ancillary DAB channel in 2011. Since then, such brands as Free, the Wave (Swansea), Pulse and Signal have joined in too. In 2017, Magic Christmas arrives on DAB. There's also Heart Extra Christmas.  How many people will be asking Alexa or Google to play them a Christmas station - and which will they think of first?

Whilst Rajar cannot easily accommodate specific Christmas service ratings in the UK, their respective parents likely benefit from heightened brand might.

Witness the online offerings too. Not least SantaRadio, from the wonderful Guy Harris who  has carved out a well-deserved reputation in recent years for being the best 'radio santa', appearing on so many different stations, with an 'on-brand' Santa for each: cool or fruity; naughty or nice. On Santa Radio - hear the kids' content too - fed in via the app. Some really interesting thinking here - also proving how truly brilliant a well-run voice-tracked station can be.

Dublin's Christmas FM first went on air in 2008, joined by other parts of Ireland in ensuing years and diversifying into themed offshoots. The main quasi-national FM station doesn't carry ads on this temporary additional channel, supported by a hundred volunteers, but does include sponsorships; and has raised  an impressive 1.25m for charity to date, with Sightsavers being 2017's chosen cause. 

When  to stop? I'm a fan of Boxing Day; and blogger Hugh McIntryre points out that 4 out of 5 US stations flip formats back on that day.

Which songs to play?

PPL's most recent data suggests the top songs played in 2015 were as below (full 30 at foot of blog)

The Power of Love, Gabrielle Aplin 
2. Fairytale of New York, The Pogues
3. All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey
4. Last Christmas, Wham
5. Do They Know It’s Christmas? Band Aid
6. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Wizzard
7. Driving Home for Christmas, Chris Rea
8. Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens
9. Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade
10. Step Into Christmas, Elton John

From overseas (US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), iHeart Radio collated data from listeners in 2016 giving the thumbs up or down as songs played on-air. Thumbs up went to: Winter Wonderland; Sleigh Ride; Let it Snow;  All I want for Christmas is You; and It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas. Thumbs down went to: Happy Christmas War is Over; Do They Know It;'s Christmas; I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus; and the Christmas Song

Spotify's data scientists suggest seasonal trends in music consumption, with Winter dominated by "Spoken word recordings, "mellower" subgenres, and music associated with particular countries".

The top Spotify artists across the combined period of Winter 2014 and 2015 were as tabulated below.  Whilst the Beatles lead, owing to their songs being streamed for the first time in December 2015, it's easy to see many of the remainder have a festive flavour. 

  1. The Beatles*
  2. David Bowie
  3. Bing Crosby
  4. Yellow Claw
  5. Nat King Cole
  6. Mark Ronson
  7. Bushido
  8. Michael Bublé
  9. James Newton Howard
  10. ZAYN

Make of it all what you will.  But remember: unless you are Radio 4, people likely turn on your station to lift their mood.  And, if your format and brand can stretch to it, stop being so miserable. Your listeners would agree. 


 Here's a Christmas gift for a radio-loving friend. 

My book Radio Moments tells of the last fifty years of radio - from the inside.  A  very personal account of growing up with radio, before becoming a tetchy jock  and then a hassled MD and programmer. The laughter and tears of an  unrepeatable era.

    Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and         
    producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it      

Top 10 most played Christmas songs in 2015 (PPL)

1) The Power of Love, Gabrielle Aplin
2) Fairytale of New York, The Pogues1
3) All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey2
4) Last Christmas, Wham3
5) Do They Know It’s Christmas? Band Aid4
6) I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Wizzard6
7) Driving Home for Christmas, Chris Rea5
8) Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens8
9) Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade7
10) Step Into Christmas, Elton John9
11) Stay Another Day, East 1715
12) Happy Xmas (War Is Over), John Lennon11
13) Wonderful Christmas Time, Paul McCartney10
14) Stop The Cavalry, Jona Lewie    13
15) Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Dean Martin22
16) I Believe in Father Christmas, Greg Lake17
17) Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses12
18) Thank God It’s Christmas, Queen20
19) 2000 Miles, The Pretenders14
20) It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, Andy WilliamsNEW
21) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee16
22) Sleigh Ride, The Ronettes19
23) A Winter’s Tale, David Essex27
24) The Power of Love, Frankie Goes To Hollywood30
25) Lonely This Christmas, MUDNEW
26) A Spaceman Came Travelling, Chris De Burgh28
27) Christmas Lights, ColdplayNEW
28) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Mel & Kim38
29) Please Come Home for Christmas, Bon Jovi21
30) White Christmas, Bing Crosby26


  1. I think you should listen to, and then play, play play, the wonderful new song by Rebecca Newman, called 'Holidays are Coming'. It's as Christmassy as you can get, a real feel-good song that is sung beautifully. It originally was sung by Melanie Thornton 12 years ago but she tragically died before it could be released. You can also now listen to her version too. Great song used by Coca Cola for many years.

  2. 1 December is acceptable - and not before!

  3. I'm very much a 1st December guy, Lincs FM - which we have piped at work - always used to be like that and then Boxing day revert. Me, I kick off Christmas by listening to "Christmas Rapping" on December 1st.

  4. Hi,
    It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to come here! Thanks for sharing the information with us.

    radio gospel


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