180-Proof Atmosphere

Over the weekend, Jeff at AM, Then FM tipped me to an article about how difficult it is for new holiday songs to become perennials. Among the most-played Christmas songs on radio, the newest is “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey, which was released in 1994. It’s counter-intuitive to suppose that the rise of all-Christmas formats has something to do with it. You’d think that such formats would be starving for new material, but they aren’t, as the most-played statistics—or half-an-hour spent listening—will reveal. On adult contemporary radio, new holiday songs make up the bulk of the adds this December, especially cuts from the new Michael Bublé and Justin Bieber albums, although they’re versions of familiar songs (including the Bieber duet of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with Carey) as opposed to brand-new songs.

This information seems to jive with our posts last week that noted how much of the popular Christmas music of the mid 1960s had been recorded in earlier years. In our most nostalgic of seasons, we are forever drawn back to what we know best.

Related thought: Last week, friend and man of learning Yah Shure commented, “I really do miss those beautiful music FMs this time of year.” I worked for one, and as I noted not long ago, we were pretty sure we were #1 in the market on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when people who wouldn’t otherwise tune in were looking for the 180-proof Christmas atmosphere only a beautiful-music station can provide.

Now that beautiful music is dead, that’s a tough thing to find. My station, Magic 98, does Christmas atmosphere about as well as it’s possible to do it anymore, with “98 Hours of Christmas Magic” starting at 10PM on the 21st each year and running through midnight on the 25th. We do our regular jock presentation until sometime in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, then the show runs jockless to the finish line. The music is carefully chosen—you will not hear “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” (although you will hear “The Christmas Shoes” and “Same Old Lang Syne”)—and the other formatic elements are meant to fit seamlessly with it. It’s probably as close as we’re going to get to the old WLS Holiday Festival of Music, which is still the gold standard for holiday radio in my world.

Radio stations are not always so careful. One Christmas Eve nearly a decade ago, we were visiting the family in small-town Michigan and heard the single most hideous Christmas music presentation since Marconi invented the medium. They simply loaded the automation with Christmas songs and let ’em play at random, and followed each one with pounding, uptempo formatic elements. You cannot, must not, follow Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” with “Funky New Year” by the Eagles, even if you put a shitty liner between them.

I expect that new posts will be a little light around here for the next couple of weeks, unless inspiration strikes hard. I will continue to post at WNEW.com, however, and I’ve got some interesting stuff lined up there this week. My author archive is here, and I try to tweet ’em and put them on Facebook when they appear.

4 thoughts on “180-Proof Atmosphere

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