December Will Be Magic Again

It’s Christmas time. There’s no need to be afraid – it’s just the annual ritual of dusting down the ‘Sleigh List’ for another year.

In the States many AC stations tend to flip to an ‘All-Christmas’ format on Thanksgiving Day (or sometimes even earlier) right through until Christmas. It’s ‘comfort listening’ and many US programmers believe it’s important to be THE Christmas station in their market. Even if some people are not ready for it, it’s important they know where to hear it when they do want it.

While ‘All-Christmas’ continues to be popular with listeners in the States, here in the UK we have generally tended to be rather more cautious by playing the occasional Christmas song once an hour from early-December and gradually building up until Christmas Day itself. Anything more is often seen as overkill.

In recent years, though, we have seen a number of short-term Christmas stations pop-up on DAB, but no mainstream UK station has followed the US example and flipped to All-Christmas – until now.

This week, in a game-changing move, Magic – available on FM in London and DAB nationally – has announced it is to play only Christmas songs throughout December. Tony Moorey, Group Content Director told Radio Today: “Our listeners come to Magic Radio to lift their mood and with Christmas music being the number one reason for putting the UK in that festive spirit, we decided to embrace the season and turn the station 100% Christmas all of December.”

For many people Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing those hardy annuals from Slade, Wizzard and Wham!, as well as tracks from Phil Spector’s 1963 classic album A Christmas Gift To You and A Motown Christmas blaring out of the radio or in-store PA system wherever you go. As a result they tend to ‘burn’ quickly after a few weeks, but they can then be put away for another year; magically sounding fresh again for another brief outing in twelve months’ time.

Back in the mid-1990s I compiled Music Choice Europe’s original ‘Christmas Channel’ which involved having to work my way through a very large crate of Christmas CDs (and, it should be mentioned, during a rather hot and sunny September!). I came to the conclusion there’s quite a cultural difference between US and UK Christmas favourites.

Musically, the Americans seem to love sentimental schmaltz such as dreaming of a white Christmas while walking in a winter wonderland or taking a sleigh ride together with you before rocking around the Christmas tree and watching chestnuts roasting on an open fire; all rather reminiscent of those 60s/70s Bing Crosby/Andy Williams/Osmonds-type TV specials. Christmas music on US radio also tends to be dominated by the standards.

While we Brits can usually take the American syrupy stuff in small doses, it does seem as though we tend to prefer our Christmas hits to be rather more ‘party-friendly’ – i.e. Slade, Wizzard, Shakin’ Stevens, Paul McCartney etc. – with just the occasional hint of sentimentality from artists such as Mud and Cliff.

Judging by some recent research by Ken Benson and the team at P1 Media Group I would appear to be right

P1 wanted to know how the 40 most-played Christmas songs from 2017 ranked among Christmas music radio listeners. They conducted the survey the weekend of November 2nd-4th 2018 and sampled 25-54-year-old radio listeners in the Top 50 US Radio Markets that reported listening either “Frequently” or “Sometimes” to Christmas Music on a local radio station during the holiday season. The 40 songs tested were the most-played Christmas Songs from 2017 according to Mediabase monitored airplay.

Some of the highlights from the research:

  • The timeless Christmas classics rule. Seven of the Top 10 Christmas songs were released between 1945 and 1965
  • Christmas music is equally appealing among Men and Women and across Adults 25-54
  • Top 40 and Country listeners have the most interest in listening to an all Christmas music station. We also found Men that listen to Rock and Alternative formats have a strong interest in Christmas music
  • The newest song tested was Taylor Swift’s ‘Last Christmas’ from 2007, which ranked #36. Cyndia Lauper and Frank Sinatra’s ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’  from 1992 was the newest song to finish in the Top 10
  • Two versions of Jingle Bell Rock and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer both made the Top 10
  • Many UK Christmas radio staples, including Paul McCartney, John Lennon & Yoko Ono Wham! And Band Aid (1984) are in the bottom half of the chart

P1’s full research info is available HERE – but this is the Top 20:

How does that compare with the UK? In 2017 Dr Joe Bennett of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, USA, analysed the top 200 UK Spotify song streams from the previous year’s Christmas period (2016) and here’s the Top 10.