To Play Christmas Music or Not To Play Christmas Music, That is The Question

By Wayne Clouten, BPR

At this time of year at thousands of radio stations around the world those responsible for content management sit down and ask themselves three questions:

  1. Should we play Christmas songs this year?
  2. If we do play them, how often should we play them?
  3. For how long should we play Christmas music?

There are no convenient one-size-fits all answer to these questions because different stations have different issues to consider however there are a few guiding principles to take note of which may assist in your decisions this year.


Acknowledging The Christmas Spirit:

The key issue is celebrating the spirit and goodwill of the season with your listeners.  Playing Christmas songs is only one aspect of this.  Other Christmas content to consider includes:

  • Christmas themed audio branding and packaging
  • Street promotions
  • Social media
  • Dedicated Christmas Music stream
  • Well-wish messages from your personalities and artists
  • Supporting a Christmas charity


Where the available pool of format compatible Christmas music is limited stations should consider placing more emphasis on one or more of the tactics above.  A station can still sound very “Christmas” without actually playing much Christmas music.


Playing Christmas Music:

Oldies, AC, Full Service and soft AC stations have an advantage in terms of available song repertoire.  For contemporary and niche formats the available pool of xmas music that fits the format is much more limited.  The available pool of Christmas music you have to work with defines to a great extent the answer to the three questions listed earlier.  What-ever you do musically should be noticeable otherwise there is no point in playing any Christmas music to begin with.  Here are some of your options in terms of number of songs played:

  • One track per hour.
  • 100% Christmas songs on Christmas eve/day
  • Christmas song double play per hour (suits oldies and soft AC formats)
  • Christmas song countdown leading up to Xmas Day


The next dimension that has to be considered is when do you start playing Christmas music.  There is no “official” start date which is better or worse than any other.  In some markets there may be local heritage dates to consider however it is preferable for a station not to be seen as being “late” in starting it’s Christmas tactics.  Start dates to consider include:

  • In societies where the Advent Calendar is observed then following the Advent dates is a safe choice. For 2020 the Advent period commences on the 29th November and finishes on 24th
  • 1st December is a date which is naturally associated with the beginning of the Christmas month.
  • In towns and cities where a communal Christmas tree is erected then a station starting it’s Christmas tactics on the day the Christmas tree is officially lit should be considered. Better still, the station should be associated with the lighting and promotion of the tree.
  • In countries where there is a tradition of holding Christmas Markets then a station starting it’s Christmas tactics around the time the Christmas markets begin is an option.


Christmas is a traditional celebration in Christian countries so it is good for a radio station to select a start date which makes sense to the listener and preferably coincides with some form of recognised celebration of the Christmas period beginning in the broader community.


How Long Should Christmas Tactics Run for?

This is the easy question.  From whenever you have decided to start until Christmas day or boxing Day (26th December) at the latest.

The critical issue in terms of timing, is conducting your Christmas tactics for as long as you can do them really well – and no longer.


Heritage Radio Stations

If your station has a heritage association (image) for Christmas tactics then be very careful about stepping back from whatever it is you do.   A station with a strong existing image for being the markets “Christmas Station” is an enviable position to hold.  If there is a temptation to step back from your Christmas tactics then only do so with the guidance of substantiating research that confirms that making such a move will not damage your brand.


Research What You Stress

If you find yourself anguishing over your Christmas programming decisions each year then think about researching what it is you are finding difficult to resolve.



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