by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com
There are many Christmas songs, sometimes in many different versions. Which holiday titles will fit your strategy?
In an earlier article, we’ve shared holiday scheduling tips and Christmas format clocks, but how do you play the right songs for your brand and demographic? We’ll feature a complete Top 40 chart for a ‘Christmas station’, which could also serve as the musical ornament on your playlist tree. And if you’re not flipping to ‘100% seasonal’, or hardly play any Christmas songs, you’ll see how you can still reflect the holiday spirit with your unique Xmas profile.
‘Don’t go broad; rather go deep’
Build your playlist meticulously
Jingle Bell Rock is one of most popular Christmas songs of all time, but can you still play Bobby Helms on the radio today? If you’re programming an American station, the answer seems to be yes! According to P1 Media Group’s annual Christmas music test (in collaboration with Nielsen) among listeners in the 50 biggest radio markets of the United States, this 1957 classic is actually the best-testing holiday song of 2019 — and not just in 18-54 (82%), but also in 18-24 (80%).
In general, you want to be very careful with ‘spectrum border songs’ as I like to call them, such as a familiar yet old-sounding standard (when you run a contemporary brand), a modern-sounding yet unfamiliar track (when you program a classics-based format), or a familiar yet polarizing song. An example of the latter is Madonna’s Santa Baby, which has a relatively high irritation factor according to last year’s edition of the same study (11% of 25-54 year-olds disliked it).
Plan your holiday strategy
This is where science (identifying popular songs and rotating those frequently) and art (creating variety impression and achieving great flow) famously meet! You want to feature seasonal music in the right context, first on a macro level. Is there already a ‘Christmas station’ in your market? If so, how can you be different? Does ‘100% Christmas’ fit your programming strategy and brand perception? If not, which Christmas songs could you occasionally play?
On a micro level, you want to ask yourself questions as well. Do you have enough power titles and newer songs, so you can embed ‘riskier’ tracks in between ‘safer’ ones or package ‘old-sounding’ standards with ‘contemporary-sounding’ tracks? Are your Power & Secondary category rotations staying out of sync for sufficient time? That’s especially relevant when you schedule your powers and secondaries 1:1 and side-by-side, as our Christmas format clocks are designed to do.
Define your Christmas cluster
You can use holidays to position your brand — even if you play 0% Christmas! If you’re an Active Rock station, you may use clips in format explainers (“Heard enough Jingle Bell Rock? 99X. Real rock… all year long”). In Top 40, you can play a few Xmas hits occasionally; just be selective. Even if 80% of 18-24 year-olds apparently like the Bobby Helms classic ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, do they expect (and want) to hear it on your station? Probably not — but may might like Ariana Grande’s ‘Santa Tell Me’.
‘100% Christmas’ sounds tempting for a short-term ratings win, but does it serve your long-time brand strategy, if you’re, let’s say, a Rhythmic AC? In such a case, my two cents would be: don’t go broad; rather go deep; choose a cluster to distinguish your sound. If you’re a ‘Jammin’ Oldies’ AC with a playlist including Motown songs, featuring Motown Christmas music can certainly serve your tactics and strategy. Just test enough titles to play more than Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
‘Benefit from appointment listening’
Increase your tune-in occasions
If you are a broad family station with a 18-54 audience, then you can play a broader mix of music for that demo. Yes, also Jingle Bell Rock from 1957 (and even White Christmas from 1942) when carefully scheduled and dayparted. Depending, again, on your station image and format strategy, you might focus on modern & uptempo songs during drive time and work hours, and go slightly more nostalgic and downtempo during winter evenings when (Baby) It’s Cold Outside.
You can benefit from appointment listening when you play your top hits in a certain context. It can be as simple as a Christmas Top 40 where you take your 40 best-besting holiday songs, and re-organize them. Like a chronological chart from 1947 till today with cool facts about key songs (or lifetime memories of your audience, including well-produced listener audio), starting with Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and ending with Katy Perry’s Cozy Little Christmas (2018).
Optimize your music flow
Another way is to schedule songs in a meticulous order, serving a broad listenership by offering lots of music variety. Make a serious effort to separate similar sounds (and recurring artists & titles), as a well-scheduled log means a good listening experience — the human touch that makes us different from Spotify and other audio streaming services. Using 40 of 57 songs on P1 Media’s 2019 list of best-testing holiday songs, we’ve made a Christmas Top 40 for a Classic Hits format.
To stimulate TSL, we’ve assigned test rank 1-20 to Power, and 21-40 to Secondary, so we could place Powers (76-82% passion score in the entire 18-54 year-old research population) in order of increasing popularity to build excitement throughout the chart, and place secondaries (71-75% passion) around these Power slots as a balancing element to achieve good variety of things like era, texture, tempo and gender. This has led to the following Top 40, with Power songs in bold:
40 — Jingle Bell Rock — Hall & Oates
39 — Ring Christmas Bells — Ray Conniff & The Ray Conniff Singers
38 — It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Michael Bublé
37 — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town — The Jackson 5
36 — Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) — Darlene Love
35 — Sleigh Ride — Leroy Anderson
34 — Winter Wonderland — Amy Grant
33 — Last Christmas — Wham!
32 — Baby It’s Cold Outside — Dean Martin
31 — Feliz Navidad — José Feliciano
30 — Last Christmas — Taylor Swift
29 — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town — Frank Sinatra
28 — Happy Xmas (War Is Over) — John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band
27 — You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch — Thurl Ravenscroft
26 — Santa Baby — Eartha Kitt
25 — The Christmas Song — Nat King Cole
24 — Do You Hear What I Hear? — Andy Williams
23 — Linus And Lucy — Vince Guaraldi
22 — Please Come Home For Christmas — The Eagles
21 — It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Bing Crosby
20 — Underneath The Tree — Kelly Clarkson
19 — Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer — Gene Autry
18 — Silver Bells — Andy Williams
17 — Sleigh Ride — The Ronettes
16 — Run Rudolph Run — Chuck Berry
15 — A Holly Jolly Christmas — Burl Ives
14 — There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays — The Carpenters
13 — Jingle Bells — Frank Sinatra
12 — Frosty The Snowman — Jimmy Durante
11 — Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas — Michael Bublé
10 — Happy Holiday / The Holiday Season — Andy Williams
09 — All I Want For Christmas Is You — Mariah Carey
08 — Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! — Dean Martin
07 — Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer — Burl Ives
06 — Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) — Gene Autry
05 — Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree — Brenda Lee
04 — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town — Bruce Springsteen
03 — It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year — Andy Williams
02 — It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas — Johnny Mathis
01 — Jingle Bell Rock — Bobby Helms
Create your own version
I’ve created this chart to give you a head start, as I’ve been a busy music director myself. In many English-speaking and European markets, you could play this list from 40 to 1. However, only you really know your market and its local greatest hits, being embedded in your musical culture. You also know, like no-one else, what listeners expect from your brand, based on experience and research. I would therefore suggest to use this as a base, but make it your own.
If you’re more ‘Modern AC’ than ‘Classic Hits’, then many 40’s, 50’s and 60’s standards are too far from your music core. Even though it’s a holiday context — an excuse to explore your format borders — always stay true to your brand and format. You could take out 10 or 20 songs; creating a Top 30 or 20 instead, and/or replace old-feeling titles by new-sounding ones (in bold) from the 17 other good-testing songs (71-61% passion among 18-54 year-olds), which are the following:
41 — Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24 — Trans-Siberian Orchestra (instrumental)
42 — Winter Wonderland — Eurythmics
43 — Little Saint Nick — Beach Boys
44 — I’ll Be Home For Christmas — Bring Crosby
45 — Wonderful Christmastime — Paul McCartney
46 — Christmas Time Is Here — Vince Guaraldi (instrumental)
47 — Do They Know It’s Christmas? — Band Aid
48 — White Christmas — Bing Crosby
49 — Christmas Canon — Trans-Siberian Orchestra (instrumental)
50 — Hallelujah — Pentatonix
51 — Santa Tell Me — Ariana Grande
52 — What Christmas Means To Me — John Legend
53 — Blue Christmas — Elvis Presley
54 — Winter Wonderland — Darlene Love
55 — White Christmas — The Drifters
56 — Mistletoe — Justin Bieber
57 — Cozy Little Christmas — Katie Perry
Happy programming and happy holidays!
Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.