The year is winding down (finally) and the staff is counting the days until the Holiday break. The rating period will be ending in a few weeks, and most radio stations will take a collective sigh to relax with family and friends (maybe via Zoom). Most of the staff wants time off and the station will be even emptier than it has been. Of course, you can get by. Technology makes it easy to stay on-air. And even sound good. But effective Holiday programming is a challenge! And an opportunity.

Most programmers start to wind down as December comes around. And they certainly don’t think of the few days before or the week after Christmas much. The station goes on auto-pilot with the intention to come back strong in January.

There are good reasons for taking a break. Schools are out. Audience listening patterns are disrupted (again). And many listeners will be on vacation. And, Nielsen isn’t rating radio stations. So it’s natural to coast a bit.

But wait! When the rest of the world is on cruise control, there’s an opportunity to gain momentum.

Capitalize On Christmas Programming

Stations playing all Christmas music have a big advantage in December. They’ve gained strength leading to the end of the year. Don’t let that momentum slip away.

Capitalize on Christmas music programming with a plan to convert the new audience to regular listeners when the format is back to “normal”.

Programmers often make one of two strategic mistakes when in Christmas programming:

  • They get excited about the massive gains in December and assume the cume will be there on January 3. The plan is to capitalize on listeners when everyone returns to work. But that rarely happens. Most listeners will be gone unless there’s a good reason to stay.  Most listeners quickly fall back into regular listening patterns.
  • The other extreme also happens. Some PD’s have concluded the Christmas gain “is what it is” and have given up trying to convert that cume into regular listening.
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The best approach is a multi-faceted programming and promotion strategy starting before the last Christmas song plays.

  • Plan a major promotion to being immediately in the new year. Pre-promote it during Christmas programming. Then build excitement for that contest, game, or feature with a sneak preview during the last week of the year.
  • Introduce key programming changes immediately after Christmas. Maybe it’s a new music-based feature that enhances at-work listening. Perhaps the morning show has new enhancements coming. Build excitement. Promote the benefits of listening in advance.

Side note: For details on holiday programming, follow the guidelines in my eBook Radio Guide to Christmas Programming.

Holiday Programming: Reconsider Tactics

There’s no doubt that listening changes during the holiday period, but there are several reasons to program aggressively.

  • Scan the radio dial anytime between Christmas and January 1. There’s nothing on. It’s a series of year-end specials (boring), fill-in hosts (unfamiliar and generally weak), and flashback shows featuring the “best of” the past year (who wants to relive that?).
  • High profile personality shows are running best-of shows. Some are tired. Others are put together sloppily. This creates opportunity.
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I’m not saying to insist primary talent perform live shows on December 26. But put some extra effort into it and the show will sound alive. Here’s how to program recycled content to make it sound exciting!

Fewer listeners are available, but they’ll be pushing buttons more than ever looking for something interesting. Let’s make it easy to find a new favorite radio show.

Thank The Audience

If there is no major promotion and nothing to pre-sell going into the new year, use the end of the year to thank listeners and get credit for the great things the station has done in the past year. A great promo can be far more effective than playing back highlights as a retrospective.

However: Take care to present it as a current promo that sounds fresh and new, not a “looking back on” campaign.

Here’s an example of a terrific, heartfelt promo from Kool-FM in Victoria:


Yes, this promo is longer than most. But it’s highly effective and portrays the station as deeply involved in the fabric of the community.

Special Programming

Find ways to generate interest with special programming. Be creative. Here are several ideas:

  • The Santa Claus Show is a big winner for stations targeting parents of young children.
  • I know of at least two stations that program Christmas morning with sound effects that include a fire burning, sounds of children and conversation, and Christmas music. Another station plays only the sound of a log burning in the fireplace. That doesn’t work for most stations, but for a tongue-in-cheek programming tactic, this could get some attention.
  • Use technology and pre-record specialty shows that sound alive. At Star 100.7 in San Diego, we recorded a New Year’s Eve party in the middle of December, then played it back on New Year’s Eve. We had everything, include drinks, food, and party favors. It sounded live and exciting. And it was fun for the staff. This also works for a Christmas Eve Staff Party, including opening gifts, etc.
  • Plan year-end countdown shows on New Year’s Day in advance. And get more mileage from them by playing them much longer. Follow the tips on programming countdown shows here.
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The difference between winning and losing is often committing an extra 10% effort. That’s all that separates one station from another.

Holiday programming can make a difference. And in a competitive entertainment environment, every single advantage matters.


Radio Guide to Christmas Programming eBook

The Santa Claus Show

Should Your Station Play All Christmas Music?

A Programmer Air Checks Santa Claus

Christmas Programming and Promotion Ideas

Planning Ahead: Your Show’s New Year’s Eve Party

6 Keys To A Great New Year Countdown Show

How To Program Recycled Content

An Extra 10% To Winning Radio