The Ghost of Christmas Radio Past and Future

The post Christmas radio ratings are in for the two People Meter markets -- Philadelphia and Houston -- and you should not be surprised to observe that the two bellwether Christmas stations lost half of their huge ratings gains acquired in December.

Jerry Lee's WBEB (B-101), Philadelphia slid from a 29.6 share in women 18+ during the week December 20-26 to 12.8 when the station reverted to its adult music format.

In Houston, Clear Channel's KODA lost 47% of its women compared to those listening during Christmas week.

Significantly, both stations remained number one in the 6+ average daily cume.

Are 29 shares in the prime 18+ women demographic a ghost of Christmas past or an indication of future success?

Well, not so quick.

Here's what's significant in analyzing all-Christmas music, the People Meter and the future:

1. Thank retailers for the huge boost in women listeners. In the People Meter world an 18+ woman who can hear radio in a retail store is logging listening time for the Christmas format that is playing. Going forward -- whether it's Christmas music or not -- radio should rethink its strategy for getting played in public places. That's a whole separate story and it involves a major shift in focus and money to cooperate with the People Meter.

2. Number one ain't bad after the huge surge in listening credited by the People Meter to these two watershed Christmas stations. The owners know what they're doing during Christmas and it's temporary. A bad station isn't going to be better after switching to Christmas music for six weeks, but a great station remains great when the holiday music ends.

3. Other music format deviations might be considered elsewhere on the calendar. All love songs for the week up to Valentine's Day. The key is to develop week long music concepts that also cooperate with retail sales seasons. Retail establishments are your best friend when People Meters can "hear" radio in public.

4. Not switching to all Christmas music may not be as fatal as some broadcasters think. You know the ones, they are hell bent each year to go all holiday music even before Thanksgiving. Again, after Christmas the ratings results tend to be restored to pre-Christmas rankings so switching out of fear is not prudent.

5. Buyers should be smart enough to consider the Christmas bump for what it is -- a temporary increase in listening that does not have legs after the holidays. But all-Christmas stations should also be smart enough to jack the rates up for that period of time. Say, double the station's usual rates for double the audience during that period. Oh, and cut the spotload (that's where I lost you, didn't I?).

6. Some stations switch to all-Christmas to lead up to a regular format change. I'm not wild about that based on what we're learning unless the format you're switching to is adult music and you've been rehearsing it simultaneously in studio B during the six weeks the Christmas format was airing. Getting only one chance to make a good first impression still applies.

7. The morning show is the "x" factor because what adult music stations should consider following every holiday season switch is to do something major in the morning as a carry over from all the longer listening and increased cume. These music stations miss adding a major element to their morning shows as a residue of, say, a doubling of their audiences during the holidays. I'm not talking about contests and the usual radio fare that has worn out its welcome. If I were programming such a station -- careful now -- I would have promoted during the Christmas blitz that my station was going to pay a lucky listener's mortgage payment for the entire year starting when the Christmas music ended. And I'd choose a listener every week -- but getting to the winner would be an ordeal like American Idol. It would be theater, competition, high production values and prudence (after all we're still a music station). Imagine that with the post-Christmas economy sinking as it has. Imagine me getting fired as PD or consultant as I would likely be. This is crazy. Spend that kind of money? Hell, it would cost as much for production as it would to pay the mortgages. Somehow I suspect Jerry Lee is crazy enough to do it.

8. Then that post-Christmas morning show event needs lots of TV advertising.

Well, it looks like I've gone and done it again.

I've embraced the People Meter.

I've spent everyones money when they should be cutting back and impressing Wall Street -- you know, the people who can't manage their own investments.

I've dared to make the morning show the station's top priority -- morning show rehab must happen across all format lines in 2008. No more excuses.

And, I've illustrated one worthwhile way to prolong the efficacy of terrestrial radio among adult listeners in an age of consolidated defeatism.

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