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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Hap-happiest Time O'The Year!

Believe it or don’t, there was method to the madness of Christmas music on the radio, back before the simple madness of “all Xmas music all the time” began being practiced by a number of radio outlets these days. (Please feel free to imagine a grumpy old man voice while reading this.) Back in the day, when I was programming small and medium-market radio stations, we started the week after Thanksgiving with one Christmas song an hour.  The next week, two an hour.  Week after that, three an hour, with a Christmas song at the top of the hour.  Christmas week was at least four an hour:  top and bottom of the hour, with sweeps into Christmas songs at the quarter hours.  Finally, it was all-Christmas-music for Christmas Eve, starting at 6 pm and going all through Christmas Day.  On Boxing Day (also known as “the day after Christmas” in the U.S.): no Christmas music! The holiday was over!  All done! Back to the normal playlist!

A big problem in radio during pre-computer days (continue reading in the grumpy old man voice, dadgummit!) was that stations had to make sure there were warm bodies playing all this wonderful music over the holidays. And all-Christmas-music-all-the-time was an intentionally boring format, the idea being that people could use the radio as background music for their parties and holiday gatherings.  So there was usually a bit of fighting amongst the staff over who got time off over the holidays -- probably motivated as much or more by the desire to avoid a boring shift as by the desire to be with family and friends during the most wonderful time of the year.

I remember a staff meeting one November evening at WTSN in Dover, New Hampshire. I had just started as night jock Willie B. in September; Mike Kelley had started as midday jock a few months earlier.  Program Director Paul LeBlanc, referring to one of the other jocks, said “B.J. and I worked last Christmas, so I think Mike and Willie should work the Christmas shifts this year.”  Now, I really didn’t mind working Christmas, as I had no family or friends to spend it with, but just to be contrary, I said, “Wait a second!  I worked last Christmas! Not HERE, but I still worked last Christmas! Doesn’t that count?”  “No, Willie, it doesn’t,” Paul immediately replied. “You’re working Christmas night.” Playing non-stop boring Christmas music. Done deal.

Years later, when I was programming a station in Franklin, New Hampshire, I came up with what I thought was a fair holiday schedule: we had six jocks and were on the air from 6 am to midnight, so I divided Christmas Eve and Christmas Day into six shifts of six hours apiece.  A long time on the air, but each jock had to take just one shift over the two days, and with some wrangling everyone managed to get a shift that they liked.

The best holiday coverage I ever lucked into was at a station I programmed in Salem, New Hampshire.  The midday jock was Jewish.  He volunteered to run the board all day Christmas if he could have Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana off the next spring.  Done deal.


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