Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Music

I can’t believe it! It isn’t even December yet and one of the local radio stations has gone “All Christmas!” Now I love Christmas Music as much as the next guy but this trend is just too much. In fact, if I were a DJ working for a station that switched to all Christmas music this early, I would be a little nervous. It seems that the powers that be use the Christmas music as a buffer against negative audience reaction for a format switch. A Facebook friend posted a couple of days ago that the station where she works is switching format and has fired the entire announce staff. That is just their way of saying “Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas,” I guess.

Back in the day, I always looked forward to adding the Christmas music to the on air mix at the top 40 station where I worked. Like clockwork, during the first week of December, a garland would appear wrapped around the microphone boom and a cardboard box that normally held teletype paper would appear on the floor in front of the cart machines. Woody, the program director would leave a note on the control board with the holiday Christmas music mix schedule. The first week, it would be one Christmas song every hour, the second, one every half hour. The third, three an hour leading up to Christmas week where there would be a Christmas song every other record. Then, the big crescendo, we played 24 hours solid of Christmas Music on Christmas day.

Some of this music was traditional Christmas Music; Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” “OH Come All Ye Faithful” by Perry Como and the like. But back then as now, the popular artists of the day would release their Christmas singles. A few of my favorites were Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Silver Bells”, the Jackson Five’s “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” was another classic that we used to rock the airwaves back then. These days, artists release Christmas Albums and there was some of that back in the day but mostly they released Christmas singles. I think that made quality better back then and increased the amount of original work. I liked that because that created new Christmas Standards that we could play year after year.

The fly in the ointment with all this Christmas Music was that we got to play less music per hour. December was the busiest time of the year for the station, the holiday commercial rush. Back in those days, we were allowed to play up to 18 minutes per hour of non-program content. That included commercials, public service announcements and promotional announcements. Add to that the 3 to 8 minutes of news and weather, the competition for air time was fierce. All the local merchants wanted to buy commercials to promote their Christmas sales. It was do or die time for Main Street, many merchants realized up to a third of their annual sales during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead of the usual 19 or 20 songs per hour, we would drop down to as few as 12 to 15 because of the commercial load.

All of that changed around 6 pm on Christmas Eve when the merchants closed their doors for the holiday and the commercial rush was suddenly over. But that was alright for me, now I could overdose on the wall to wall Christmas music! I moved the cardboard box from the floor to the edge of the console desk, to better dive into the pile of records looking for that one gem that somehow made its way to the bottom and wasn’t played yet that year. Yes! There it was, on the very bottom, pristine and un-played. Lovingly I would lift it to the turntable platter, carefully place the needle on the groove and let it track to the first note, carefully back track it and then hold it in the slip queue until it was time to release it to the airwaves; "Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt! Life was good.

It is sad to me that these days, that come 6 PM on Christmas day, the holiday music is suddenly gone and that the station moves on to whatever comes next. Back in the day, we didn’t quit cold turkey; we occasionally played a Christmas song until New Years day! Now that was the way to celebrate the season. Oh MY!

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