November is always a tumultuous time for people who have strong feelings about when to begin listening to Christmas music. Any day after Thanksgiving is usually fair game, but many a Christmas enthusiast has blasted Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” on November 1 (or even earlier). When radio stations start broadcasting holiday tunes all day long, however, it’s a pretty solid indication the listening season has officially commenced. This year, that’s happening a little earlier than usual.
According to Variety, more than 80 radio stations across the United States have already switched to playing Christmas songs only. Many made the flip this week, but some actually did it as far back as late September. The decision to start the celebrations early happened mainly for two reasons. First, radio programmers thought people could use a morale boost amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because of what 2020 has been like we went earlier than most years,” John Peake, program director for Los Angeles station KOST, told Variety. “We did a pretty exhaustive survey with listeners asking, ‘Is it OK to go early, do you want Christmas or holiday music early this year?’ And it was a resounding ‘Yes.’” It’s not the first time radio hosts have turned to Christmas music to help listeners weather the long months of mask-wearing and social distancing—similar initiatives happened over the summer.
The other reason for an early kickoff is also related to the pandemic. With so many of us working from home (and going fewer places in general), program ratings have plummeted. Commuters are no longer listening to the radio during their morning and evening drives, and offices are no longer playing pleasant background music all day long. According to Peake, KOST doubles its listenership during the holiday-only broadcast each year, so he likes to begin as early as (most of) the audience deems acceptable. That’s usually before Thanksgiving, which not everyone appreciates.
“We get that, ‘Let’s wait 'til after Thanksgiving!’” KOST host Ellen K told Variety. “But I have to tell you, I didn’t hear from any of them this morning. It was all, ‘Let’s go.’”