Flipping for Christmas in the UK

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland


In the US, it’s relatively common for radio stations to suddenly flip to playing Christmas music. You can go to bed one night, wake up and discover that your favourite station is suddenly playing nothing but Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree or All I Want For Christmas Is You.
Ireland has a station called Christmas FM which runs for a month or so, on temporary FM frequencies, raising money for charity.
In Australia, too, ARN runs “Elf Radio“, an additional online radio station from the end of November right up to Christmas. It’s on the company’s iHeartRadio app in Australia.
In recent years, Christmas-only radio stations have appeared in the UK, too – but only as additional radio stations on DAB and online. The Hot AC “Heart” runs a Christmas station on DAB, as do many local stations.
But in the UK at least, there have never been any “format flips”. Radio stations have typically added Christmas songs to the music mix, slowly at first (normally the last week of November), then quickly ramping up to play lots of Christmas songs the week of Christmas, including 26 Dec, and then they’re put away in their box for another year.
This has partly been dictated by regulation. Historically, you’ve not been able to suddenly change your music choice. But partially, it’s been driven – as much is in radio – by tradition, too.
All that’s been thrown out of the window in the UK this year, as Magic Radio, a national soft AC outlet, has decided to do what I think must be the first Christmas format flip in UK radio history.
It’s a brave move. It’s got a lot of press, and may well attract new listeners to the station, who’ve never had an all-Christmas station on FM before. It might, also, scare some people away. The effect of dramatically changing the station’s sound for almost a month will be fascinating to examine.
The radio ratings in the UK are done by quarter, with a break in ratings over Christmas; so it’s unlikely that we’ll see the full effect of this flip since almost all of it will be done outside the ratings period. But I’m curious how it’ll do. And, I bet, so are the folks at the Bauer-owned station.
And, dare I say – I think there’s a market for a station that doesn’t play Christmas music at all: particularly in the UK, which is less schmaltzy and sentimental than the US about the holiday period. I’d much rather tune in to that, to be honest. Bah, humbug.
It’s a time for giving, and for receiving, and for format flipping. Interesting times ahead.

About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.

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