So it’s “Black Friday” today. The phrase, as I understand it, is a bit of retailing/advertising industry slang that has crept into general usage only within the last decade at the most—it’s easier to say “Black Friday sale” than “After-Thanksgiving sale,” which is what advertisers used to say. “Black” supposedly refers to the time of year at which retailers get into the black for the year, although I’d be curious to know what percentage of Black Friday shoppers know that.
I hear “Black Friday” and I associate it with something bad, like the stock market crash that signaled the start of the Great Depression, on a day that was called Black Thursday. And there’s that Steely Dan song too, the 1975 single from Katy Lied:
When Black Friday comes
I’ll stand down by the door
And catch the gray men
As they dive from the 14th floor
Black Friday is the day when many radio stations start adding Christmas music to the rotation. To spark the holiday mood, some stations go solid Christmas music for today only—Magic 98 does, and I’ll be on the air this afternoon from 3 to 7 U.S. Central. In 1984, shortly after I had taken over as program director at WKAI, the general manager, a kindly man who’d been at the station for years, had not hired me, and did not quite know how to take me, asked during Thanksgiving week if we would be playing Christmas music all day on Friday, which the station had done in its earlier, pre-me incarnation. I looked at him like he had two heads and dismissed the idea. It made no sense to me.
In his radio programming newsletter this week, consultant Dan O’Day suggested that stations put their brand at risk by relying too heavily on Christmas music. I dimly understood this in 1984, a time when there was much less format-appropriate Christmas music available than there is now. I would have couched the argument like this: We’re a Top 40 station programmed to kids, so suddenly switching to Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby for a day would make no sense. There would be a time for Nat and Bing on my air, but a month before Christmas was not that time. (Magic 98 today is another story. Today’s Christmas-a-thon is a strong component of the station’s brand.)
Years ago, it was rare for the stations I knew to play continuous Christmas music much before Christmas Eve. Instead, holiday songs would be worked in gradually, a few at a time, and more as Christmas got closer. Thirty years ago at KDTH, an old-school full-service AM station, we’d do every other song even on the morning of the 24th, only plunging completely into the pool later in the day.
Here at this blog, we will stick to the traditions we know, and mix in the Christmas music alongside our regular crap, but we’ll bow to current practice and start today instead of waiting a week, as I would have done at WKAI. And we’ll begin as we usually do. During the jump-blues craze of the 1990s, few bands did it better than Chicago’s Mighty Blue Kings. Ten years ago, they released a Christmas album that almost never gets out of the player at our house each holiday season. For the last several years, they’ve done special Christmas shows in Chicago, but this year, they’re doing one at Shank Hall in Milwaukee on December 18. Do The Mrs. and I have our tickets yet? Hell and yes.