Why All-Christmas Radio Keeps Coming Early

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- There are millions of reasons why radio stations in your area drill Burl Ives' Have A Holly Jolly Christmas into your head dozens of times per hour and are making Christmas come a bit earlier each year.

Last year, 19 radio stations nationwide switched to the all-holiday format by Nov. 9, with WSMM 102.3 FM in South Bend, Ind., leading the charge Oct. 18. This year, 23 stations have already begun assaulting listeners' senses with Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree, which Mediabase says was played 19,406 times last year, and Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You (19,153 times). Atlantic City, N.J.-based WEZW 93.1 FM started spreading the wall-to-wall holiday cheer Oct. 17. Gary Fisher, president and owner of WEZW parent company Equity Communications, told The Street that the switch is playing well with listeners and advertisers in South Jersey.
The all-holiday radio format isn't just popular, but extremely lucrative for stations that make the switch.

"The 2011 economy in South Jersey has remained challenging for our listeners and our advertisers," Fisher said in a statement before the switch. "Our goal is to help brighten everyone's mood with a little holiday cheer."

Holiday radio's biggest punchbowl of seasonal cheer is reserved for the all-holiday stations and their ownership groups, which have been getting a little bit extra in their mugs each holiday after radio research firm Arbitron ( ARB) went to its Personal People Meter method of ratings data collection in 2007. Arbitron's ratings team began carrying around cellphone-sized monitors that could pick up broadcasts its carriers were hearing and detect the watermark of the station playing in the background, so when a listener is at the mall being elbowed in the face for the last Holiday Barbie and hears Andy Williams' Most Wonderful Time of The Year, it counts toward the ratings. Sean Ross, executive editor or music and programming for Radio-Info.com, says those PPM numbers are the biggest reason the all-holiday format won't melt away this year or anytime soon.

"As PPM rolled out, there were some concerns in the industry that there might be diminishing returns," says Sean Ross, executive editor or music and programming for Radio-Info.com. "Then Arbitron unveiled the PPM book and suddenly holiday stations had the sort of numbers that hadn't been seen in a fragmented industry for 30 years."

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