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Radio hears profit in holiday music

More than 250 radio stations nationwide are playing non-stop holiday music until Christmas night. And while it may be monotonous to some, it's a clear money maker. By CNBC's Nanette Hansen.
/ Source: CNBC

Do you find yourself wondering just how many times you'll have to listen to “Jingle Bell Rock” between now and Christmas? More than 250 radio stations nationwide are playing non-stop holiday music until Christmas night. And while it may be monotonous to some, it's a clear money maker.

It's virtually impossible not to hear the latest trend in radio: all-Christmas-music, all-the-time. 

This year some 256 stations around the country are playing non-stop holiday formats, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some of those are switching to Ho-ho-ho tunes as early as Halloween. But even the Scrooges out there can't argue with the end result.

"It's absolutely a money maker," said Katy Bachman, who covers the radio industry for MediaWeek magazine.

Bachman estimates that all Christmas formats tend to add profits of between 1 and 2 percent of a station's gross. For the nation's top-billing radio station, Clear Channel's WLTW "Lite FM" in New York city,  that means an extra $700,000 to $1.4 million. It billed just under $70 million last year.

"At our New York station, [catalogue retailer] Lillian Vernon had a commercial scheduled that they would only place on the station if we were all Christmas," Jim Ryan, vice president adult contemporary programming at Clear Channel.

And it's not just a New York state of mind. The top 13 markets in the U.S. have at least one radio station dedicated to playing all-Christmas-music, all-the-time. Detroit has three.

And a wide range of advertisers are investing in the Christmas format by buying air time.

"Radio Shack, Toys R Us, McDonald's, Verizon are all big on all Christmas stations as well," said Tom Zarecki, whose company, Media Monitors, tracks radio content and commercials in the top markets nationwide.

Department stores like Kohl's are also getting on board. The reason is that stations with all-holiday formats get a spike in audience. And advertisers want to reach those consumers.

"Our station in Detroit last year in October had a 4 (percent) share of women in the 25-54 year old demographic,” said  Ryan. “The audience swelled to better than a 14 percent share of those women in December." 

Bigger audiences mean pricier rate cards Lite FM's rate card is higher by 20 per cent, thanks to the all-holiday format. And Clear Channel has found it so successful that 80 of its 134 adult contemporary stations nationwide have gone all-Christmas. 

Once Christmas is over, the stations are banking they'll hold on to more than half of their new holiday audience. That will be their true measure of silver and gold.