Yr Blues: Yule Tide FM

December 3, 2009

Start your anticipation engines, folks—November has come and gone. It’s all Christmas, all the time from here until early-to-mid January. Retail, television, and radio are already well-entrenched in the Christmas Crawl (which is more like a Christmas speed-walk to the nearest register), exploiting your holiday soft spot with shameless propaganda.

It also means the onset of a great number of Christmas paradoxes: 1) Spending countless hours seeking out material goods to reinforce the value you place on human relationships; 2) Bringing something from nature into your home, but dressing it up with tinsel so that it no longer looks natural; 3) Insisting that children believe in Santa Claus, but telling them that he won’t visit if they lie; 4) Drinking eggnog.

My favorite Christmas paradox, however, is the “Nothing-But-Christmas-Music” radio format, a brief perversion of the rules that govern radioplay. Most stations switch to Christmas music for the advertising revenue—the listenership for stations that adopt the format generally spikes around the holidays—but it also requires these stations to mix up their rotation.

This is the only time of year that you can hear Alvin and the Chipmunks, Bing Crosby, and James Brown all on a “Lite Rock, Less Talk” station. You’ll hear pop electronica (“Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney), a political anthem sung by children (“Happy Xmas [War is Over]” by John Lennon), or a bilingual number (“Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano).

The paradox emerges in the need to maintain the interest of the audience: by playing a sequence of songs that are essentially about the same subject, these stations have to diversify the style of music that they play—a model that’s antithetical to how radio works these days, even looking beyond broadcast to Internet and satellite.

If you break into the “Nothing-But-Christmas-Music” rotation as an artist, you’re made. Just look at the top selling singles of all time (worldwide): Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” and Bing Crosby’s “Silent Night.” Unlike other classics,  hit Christmas songs receive radio play every year, and thus generate another round of sales (Crosby’s “Merry Christmas” has not been out-of-print since it’s initial release in 1949). While something like Taylor Swift’s Sounds of the Season may be annoying, it’s smart business given the potential revenue streams. So, either cover a standard in a unique way, or write something original-yet-festive.

Unlike drinking eggnog, it’s one of the few Christmas paradoxes that isn’t worth pouting about. But if you really need something to chew on, consider the dearth of hip-hop Christmas songs—”Christmas in Hollis” doesn’t count.

Meet Dan under the mistletoe at dcook@georgetownvoice.com.

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