Happy Holidays, Watch Out For Sleigh-Wrecks

Even though all-Christmas programming has become the province of a few formats (AC, Oldies, Christian AC), holiday songs remain a programming challenge for others. Stations with a five-year spread or 15-year spread in their libraries are suddenly playing Carpenters and Andy Williams songs that are forty years old, or more.

If you try to surround a holiday song with something sonically appropriate, you risk bringing down the energy level of your Top 40, Hot AC, or even Oldies/Greatest Hits station. If you just let the hits fall where they will, you get not just train-wreck segues, but “sleigh wrecks.”

In early December, the sleigh-wrecks are usually limited to a relative handful of contemporary stations that aren’t afraid of holiday music. As Christmas approaches, the number of stations willing to play the old standards increases, and then you really notice it. I first broached the topic of “sleigh wrecks” on Facebook and Twitter this week. One respondent cited “Jingle Bell Rock” (the Bobby Helms version) into Fun.’s “Some Nights.” Another reader countered with “Tik Tok” into “The Christmas Song.”

I was curious about how stations were integrating holiday music with the rest of their format. I began searching Nielsen BDSRadio for stations, outside the all-holiday format, playing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” and “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas,” three of the ’60s Christmas standards least like what’s on the radio today. Then I looked at what they were being surrounded with.

Often, what surrounded a holiday song was “whatever was in a station’s powers.”   There were a lot of segues from holiday songs into “Some Nights,” “Locked Out Of Heaven,” and Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” which seemed like a particularly appropriate segue — both in timbre and sentiment. Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time” worked, too. In a year of mellower, more acoustic CHR radio, there will probably be fewer awkward segues this holiday season.

But even in early December, there were still potential sleigh-wrecks. There’s no pejorative intent here, which is why stations are cited anonymously. Music monitors don’t show you how a particular segue was staged. And even the station that segued “Love Rollercoaster” into “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” played the same Andy Williams song several other times that week next to other, much less noticeable titles.

Besides, playing holiday music within any format other than all-Christmas comes with its built-in tradeoffs of strength and sentiment vs. tempo and consistency. Some PDs would rather come out of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” with “What I Like About You,” as one station actually did, just to get the energy level back up as soon as possible. And if you’ve decided to play “White Christmas” on anything other than a holiday station, you know that the next record will not sound like “White Christmas.”

But here’s what some audiences are already hearing next to the holiday classics:

Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”

It played following “You Make Me Feel” by Cobra Starship and David Guetta’s “Titanium” at one major-market Rhythmic Top 40. That station also followed Brenda Lee with Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You” and Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling.” A Hot AC station that recently went more rhythmic followed it with Usher’s “Scream.” A medium-market CHR went into Enrique Iglesias’ “Tonight (I’m Loving You).”

Even at Oldies/Greatest Hits stations, there are “sleigh-wreck” considerations when you’re seguing from a 1958 record at a format that is increasingly ‘70s- and ‘80s-driven. There were a lot of ‘70s disco-to-Christmas segues, but the best was the “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” into “Werewolves Of London” segue that covered multiple holiday bases.

“Rockin’” came out of Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” and Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been” at one large-market CHR. The same station also segued from Brenda Lee to Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” particularly appropriate given the similar roles the young Country/Pop crossover stars filled during their eras. Then there was the large-market Hot AC that segued into the artist once known as “Little Miss Dynamite” out of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”

Burl Ives, “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas”

A major-market CHR segued “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” into Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop The Party”—which is at least thematically appropriate, and if you’re feeling charitable, you can say the same for Hot Chelle Rae’s “Tonight Tonight” at a medium-market Hot AC. Then again, there was the medium-market Hot AC that segued it into Marcy Playground’s “Sex And Candy.” Or the medium-market CHR that used it to follow All American Rejects’ “Gives You Hell.”

The TV-driven mass-appeal of “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” even leads it to a few R&B/Hip-Hop stations. On one it came out of Ciara’s “1, 2 Step” and Trey Songz’ “2 Reasons,” and went into Nicki Minaj “Pound The Alarm.”

Andy Williams, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

It followed  not just “Love Rollercoaster” but also “Brick House” and “Bad Case Of Loving You” on some Oldies/Greatest Hits stations. At one medium-market CHR, it followed LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” (although, again, you could have made a thematic case for “Party Rock Anthem”).

Williams’ “Happy Holidays/It’s The Holiday Season” also made for some thematic contrast at the medium-market Hot AC that followed it with Carrie Underwood’s not-so-festive “Blown Away.” We also came across a similar segue from Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song”  into Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”—run, Santa, run!

Finally, there’s this one medium-market CHR segue that demonstrates the changing nature of today’s Top 40: Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas In Hollis” sandwiched between the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” and Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” It’s not so long ago that “Christmas In Hollis” would have been one of the easier-to-fit holiday songs.

And now, please leave a comment with your favorite holiday/non-holiday segues.

2 replies
  1. Gene Stevens
    Gene Stevens says:

    Hi Sean. ‘Sleigh-Wrecks’ perhaps, but more likely just music-sequence oddities. Hopefully the stations placed their IDs, jingles, or liners effectively, thus separating the songs. They might even had stop-sets and/or jock-breaks, so the overall flow wasn’t quite so bad. Ah Christmas music – hang in there – just a few more weeks to go !

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Sean.
    Gene

    Reply

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