There’s something in the air this holiday season, and it’s not just the smell of eggnog and gingerbread houses. If you haven’t noticed, holiday music — from “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to “The Little Drummer Boy” — is back on the radio. All-Christmas music programming might just be one of radio’s most profitable gimmicks.
WEZW is a small, automated, 4,000-watt radio station in Atlantic City transmitting to Cape May County in southern New Jersey. WEZW is the very first radio station in the nation to go all Christmas music, 24 hours a day, beginning Oct. 17, a full two weeks before Halloween.
Gary Fisher, the president and owner of Equity Communications, WEZW’s parent company, says, “When we go to all Christmas, our ratings double, and under our signal, we become the No. 1 station in Cape May County. As a result, our revenues explode.”
According to him, flipping is like a Christmas present to this small station, providing an additional $250,000 in revenue each year. “The beauty of Christmas radio,” he says, “is that every retailer is a candidate for a Christmas promotion. Every retailer wants to make their year by powering out Christmas sales.”
And going Christmas is a trend that’s catching on. In 2004, 279 radio stations flipped to around-the-clock holiday music; by 2013, that number had almost doubled, to 488, according to InsideRadio. The positive audience response to all-Christmas radio is a sign that radio — a 100-year-old technology — can still hold its own in an age of satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify and iTunes. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, revenue for all radio stations last year was $17.6 billion — up from just over $16 billion in 2009.
Shannon Wray, the director of marketing and promotions at WEZW, says, “Radio is the cockroach of media. It cannot be killed.”
Fisher says that one of radio’s greatest assets is its simplicity. “Radio is free, which, clearly, in this economic environment, is important to get free entertainment. You don’t need to give anybody your credit card. You don’t need to download any software.”
Those endless loops of “Feliz Navidad” and “Frosty the Snowman” don’t just bring joy to the world; they also give hundreds of radio stations around the nation a reason to be full of holiday cheer.