Local Radio's Christmas Playlists Most of America listens to the same Christmas songs on the radio. But some local programmers seem to have a "real shine" for lesser-known holiday tunes. Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight explains.
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Local Radio's Christmas Playlists

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Local Radio's Christmas Playlists

Local Radio's Christmas Playlists

Local Radio's Christmas Playlists

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Most of America listens to the same Christmas songs on the radio. But some local programmers seem to have a "real shine" for lesser-known holiday tunes. Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight explains.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Turn your dial over to the right, and it's likely you'll find one or a couple of stations playing nothing but Christmas music. All the hits. You know them. I know them.

WALTER HICKEY: Generally speaking, most of America listens to all the same Christmas music.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Walter Hickey, chief culture writer at FiveThirtyEight. He's studied the Christmas playlist of 184 FM stations and trends on Spotify.

HICKEY: If you look at the top 20 or so songs, they're about half the Christmas music all across the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JINGLE BELLS")

MICHAEL BUBLE: (Singing) Bells on bob tail ring.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

BING CROSBY: (Singing) Just like the ones I used to know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA CLAUSE IS COMING TO TOWN")

CASCADA: (Singing) You better watch out. You better not cry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's at the bottom of the charts where things get interesting and different from market to market.

HICKEY: A New York Christmas, obviously, is going to do way better in New York than it is in, like, Biloxi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As for Biloxi, Hickey found a soldier's "Silent Night," on rotation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILENT NIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) No stockings on the mantle, just boots filled with sand. On the wall, hung pictures of far distant lands.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You can see why it's not necessarily going to be in the Top 40. But it also plays a lot in Anchorage, Alaska and Charleston, S.C., which have big military bases.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILENT NIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: May God bless you this night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Christmas season brings in big advertising money for stations. So programmers mostly play it safe and stick to the classics.

HICKEY: Every time I talk to a programmer, they're just like, oh, no, word of God comes down, you listen to that. The market research is what you listen to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But every now and then, you do get some local flair.

HICKEY: This is people deciding what to play and how often things get entered into rotations. So you're going to see sometimes that element come through.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like in Mobile, Ala., where the song "Faeries" by Mannheim Steamroller gets played a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER'S "FAERIES")

HICKEY: Maybe there's a local person who has a real shine for that song (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what about the soundtrack to Hickey's hometown Christmases?

HICKEY: I grew up upstate in the Hudson Valley, a standard Catholic kind of area, a lot Irish American folks. Yeah, I feel like, "Fairytale In New York," was just on a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK")

KIRSTY MACCOLL: (Singing) They've got cars big as bars. They've got rivers of gold. But the wind goes right through you. It's no place for the old. When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve, you promised me Broadway was waiting for me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But now that he lives in New York City.

HICKEY: You never hear that really anywhere except the Irish bars the week before Christmas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Hickey's favorite regional Christmas tune after all that research...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE UP CHRISTMAS")

TRAIN: (Singing) Ho, ho ho. Shake up the happiness.

HICKEY: There's one that I really loved, which was "Shake Up Christmas" by Train - was only in Baton Rouge. It was played 18 times in Baton Rouge when we looked. And I was wondering, like, what on earth was it for? And it was from a 2010 Coca-Cola advertisement that, for whatever reason, had some legs in Louisiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE UP CHRISTMAS")

TRAIN: (Singing) Shake it up. Shake up the happiness. Wake it up. Wake up the happiness. Come on, y'all. It's Christmas time.

HICKEY: It's really interesting that you can kind of see where Christmas comes from. And sometimes, it's a Coke ad from 2010.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight. And here's my favorite Christmas song by the great José Feliciano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FELIZ NAVIDAD")

JOSE FELICIANO: (Singing) Feliz navidad. Feliz navidad. Feliz navidad. Prospero ano y felicidad. I want to wish you a merry Christmas. I want to wish you a merry Christmas. I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Singing) Wish you a merry Christmas. I want to wish you a merry Christmas.

Feliz Navidad. There is an earworm for you or feliz Hanukkah for those celebrating. What holiday music do you love? Let us know on Twitter @NPRweekend. BJ Leiderman wrote our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

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