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The holiday format flip

radio-bannerFlipping on the radio during the holidays may bring sounds of “Santa Baby” or “Silent Night” as many stations flip to all-Christmas music during the season. Often, some of these stations also take this time to rebrand, or reformat altogether so that a fresh sound is born at the turn of the new year.

According to Radio Insight, stations planning to change format after the season ends include Active Rock WHDR, slated to switch to Soft Adult Contemporary; Phoenix’s KMVA, expected to move from Rhythmic Adult Contemporary to Contemporary Hit Radio; Classic Rock WSHP in Lafayette, Ind., is slated to debut a new format after the holiday season; and Fresno, Calif.’s KHIT, which has flipped to all-Spanish Christmas music and will stay Spanish after the new year. “The all-Christmas format is a natural point to make adjustments or change the format or station name. The Christmas format can generate all kinds of new listening, and it’s during the format, while the cume (cumulative audience) levels are at an annual high, that a station can take advantage of all that new cume,” said CBS Radio senior vice president Greg Strassell in an e-mail interview. “In the case of St. Louis, we have been planning to upgrade the name to better reflect the programming on the station. So, during the holiday period, we are exposing the audience to a new name, to re-engage their listening come 2011.”

Although seasonal format flips are plentiful, Strassell said they require a lot of planning and research. For KEZK’s rebranding, he noted the Fresh name had been tested in focus groups in St. Louis and across the country. “Generally format flips between September and May get more attention due to the audience lifestyle plans,” he said. “The holiday season is a hard time to launch a new format unless you utilize the all-Christmas format for an assist.”

Sean Ross, executive editor of music and programming for Radio-Info.com and vice president of music and programming for Edison Research, shared a similar sentiment, noting that most stations wouldn’t even do a format flip during Christmas unless they were rocking to holiday tunes as well. “Too many people are busy getting ready for the holidays, and, besides it is hard to get attention for any other format when you’re across town from the Christmas music juggernaut – although oldies have the best shot,” Ross said in an e-mail interview. New Year’s Day also means a new start and new budget, he noted.

Until the new year, however, it’s Christmas tunes galore. And while multiple stations in one market going all-Christmas can make it more competitive for a while, there are benefits. “It allows stations, for a few weeks, to establish the kind of numbers that no single station has seen under circumstances since the ‘70s,” Ross said. Although some listeners may not like being inundated with holiday music on all sides, for others it is a welcome part of the holiday spirit.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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