The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Began in July

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When listeners in Fort Wayne, Indiana, tuned into Majic 95.1 in July, they heard something both unexpected and all-too-familiar. The station was playing Christmas music. In the heat of summer.

With the pandemic making life miserable for people, the station was looking for a way to appeal to listeners and boost its ratings, and Christmas songs can be a dependable way of doing so.

“We knew that the world was topsy-turvy and we just knew from playing Christmas music over the years that there’s something special about it that people connect with,” says Chris Didier, operations manager at Majic 95.1, whose on-air name is Captain Chris.

All over the country this year, stations have been playing Christmas music much earlier than normal. One Memphis station started doing it right after Halloween. Another in Youngstown, Ohio, was decking the halls in September.

Christmas music has been a reliable source of ratings gold since around 1990, when 99.9 KEZ, an adult contemporary station in Phoenix, created the format. Since it’s start, the format turned out to be an enormous success, and within a few years hundreds of stations were playing non-stop Christmas music for 24 hours a day.

“We got incredible feedback. Lots of calls, lots of emails, people saying, ‘Yes, thank you for doing this, we really love the Christmas music,'” says Captain Chris of Majic 95.1 of its decision to play holiday music in July.

Emily Boldon, vice president of adult contemporary radio at Cumulus Media, which has some two dozen stations employing the holiday format, says she’s seen a similar response.

And she has a theory about what’s happening. She says listeners associate Christmas with the year ending, and this has been a really terrible year.

“I think everybody is trying to rush the holiday this year just so we can get beyond it,” Boldon says. “I really truly believe the audience was just ready to get to the end of 2020 as fast as possible this year.”

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