STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you hope to hear a lot of Christmas music this year, you will have plenty of help. The radio has more Christmas music than ever. More stations are going all-Christmas, and they're doing it earlier. NPR's Ben Bergman explains why.
BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: The reason is simple: Christmas music makes ratings go through the roof.
SEAN ROSS: For a lot of stations, it's the kind of ratings that haven't been seen in 30 years.
BERGMAN: Sean Ross is executive editor of the trade website radio-info.com. He says over 160 stations have already made the switch this year, from Houston to Honolulu, some as early as mid-October. Another reason why: parents listen with their kids.
ROSS: Ironically, it actually makes the audience younger, even though the station is playing Bing Crosby and Andy Williams records.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR")
BING CROSBY: Do you know what I know?
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Do you know what I know?
BERGMAN: In Los Angeles, two stations are duking it out for who can be the king of Christmas radio.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PROGRAM)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: KOST 103.5, Southern California's official holiday music station.
BERGMAN: There's KOST, which was L.A.'s only all-Christmas station. Now there's the WAVE, which turned on its Christmas tunes almost a week earlier than KOST.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ho-ho. L.A.'s new Christmas station. (Singing) 94.7, the WAVE.
BERGMAN: The WAVE's program director Jhani Kaye used to be in charge of programming at KOST. He oversaw that station's holiday switch 10 years ago after seeing it work in Phoenix. Some of his colleagues thought he was crazy.
JHANI KAYE: For you to take a ratings-winning adult contemporary station and basically flip the format - that was a first about a decade ago.
BERGMAN: The switch brought ratings gold.
KAYE: We went way up, instantly.
BERGMAN: Kay admits to some complaints from listeners who missed the WAVE's usual adult contemporary format, so he emphasizes his selection of Christmas music is smooth and jazzy, not too jarringly different. And besides, for Kaye and other program directors embracing the Christmas season, the uptick in ratings is so big, alienating a few Grinches is worth it.
KAYE: Radio stations are very much like restaurants, and whenever you change a menu, there are always going to be some customers who miss their favorite items. And when the menu comes back December 26th, I believe that listeners to the WAVE know where to go for their smooth vocals.
BERGMAN: Ben Bergman, NPR News, Los Angeles.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DECK THE HALLS")
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And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
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