NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- If holiday radio is on 24 hours a day for more than a month, why does its playlist feel like it has fewer songs than December has days until Christmas?
Perhaps it's because, despite having hundreds of songs at their disposal, 24-hour holiday radio programmers spun the Top 23 songs between 10,238 times (Elvis Presley's Blue Christmas) and 19,600 times (Burl Ives' Have A Holly Jolly Christmas) last year, according to Mediabase. The newest song to crack that list is Josh Groban's rendition of Oh Holy Night from 2002 (played 12,659 times last year) and the last "new" song to crack the Top 10 was Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You, which was played 19,600 times last year but debuted 17 years ago.
It only feels like listeners are hearing the same holiday songs repeatedly because they are -- and a lot more often than they were only two years ago. According to Andrew Forsyth, a consultant for Nielsen (NLSN) BDSRadio, the average playlist size for all-holiday stations in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles shrunk from 752 songs in 2009 to 694, while the average number of times each song was played during the holiday season rose to 33.4 from 30.5.
Sean Ross, executive editor or music and programming for Radio-Info.com, notes that of those fewer than 700 songs, only 120 account for more than 70% of the airplay. The heaviest hitters -- including Ives, Carrey, Cole, Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree (19,406 plays last year) and Andy Williams' Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (18,459 plays) -- are played as much as five times a day on some stations. Ross says the playlists are not only tightening, but placing added emphasis on standards and soft, traditional songs."Only a few novelties like [Elmo and Patsy's] Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer are grandfathered, so to speak, and they would have a hard time getting played if they were new today," Ross says. "There seem to be a number of original songs coming from name artists this year -- Justin Bieber, Michael Buble, etc. -- but for the most part, artists putting out a holiday album are steering toward the standards because that's what radio plays." As long as the listeners keep getting what they want, stations and their programmers have no need to stuff more songs into listeners' stockings each year. A 33-market study conducted by radio research firm Arbitron (ARB) in 2009 found that the average market share for radio stations that switched to the all-holiday format rose 91%. Last December, 24-hour holiday music stations in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Houston all saw ratings jump from holiday 2009. ClearChannel, which already has more than a handful of its U.S. stations spinning holiday standards all day, got a 71% million bump in ad revenue for making the holiday switch last season. Unfortunately, this means a lot of holiday songs and entire genres get lost in the mix. Ross finds that his Christmas favorites -- Silent Night by the Temptations, Christmas Ain't Christmas Without The One You Love by the O'Jays and Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding -- often don't make the cut on holiday radio or are exiled to online channels such as United Kingdom-based Smooth Radio Christmas or those found on Pandora (P) and Sirius XM (SIRI) satellite radio. Though it's tough to fault radio stations for going with the sure thing, a lot of holiday party hosts are left to dig through the digital crates when constructing their seasonal playlists. With all respect to Gene Autry, Johnny Mathis, Wham! and some of the other holiday staples, we found 10 examples of must-hear holiday standards that rarely see the light of Christmas day on 24-hour holiday radio:
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