It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas. Yes, as of this past Monday - more than a week before Thanksgiving - two Boston stations have already switched to a temporary format of all-holiday music.
For its fifth year, "Oldies" WODS-FM (103.3) has made the move, subbing in tunes like the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" for the band's "I Get Around" and going deep with Darlene Love songs, such as "All Alone at Christmas" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." And this year WROR-FM (105.7) has joined the party, trading '70s hits by Springsteen and the Eagles for Bobby Helms's "Jingle Bell Rock."
The reason is simple. "Every year we've done it the market has responded extremely positively," says WODS general manager Ted Jordan. "Last year, the station went to No. 1 for the 25- to 54-[year-olds] in the fall ratings, carried by December [ratings]."
WROR wants some of those ratings. The Greater Media station is making the sound its own by mixing in some of Tom Doyle's song parodies from the popular "Loren and Wally" morning show and bringing in special guests, such as Red Sox pitcher Manny DelCarmen, who was inveigled to sing one of those parodies, "I Saw Wally Putting Panties On," on air Monday. (The clip, a twist on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," can be heard at wror.com.)
The station is further upping the ante with an in-studio Santa, weekday evenings from 6 to 8, at 617-931-1057. "He'll be taking phone calls from kids of all ages," says program director Ken West. "If you just play Christmas music, that's not fun enough. But if you put Santa on, that's a little more fun."
WROR's leap to a seasonal sound marks a move by parent company Greater Media. Two years ago, the last time it had a monthlong, all-holiday station, Greater Media adult contemporary station "Magic" WMJX-FM (106.7) was the one to switch.
In terms of listeners, keeping the holidays on the oldies stations may make more musical sense. "Most of the Christmas music is an oldie," says WODS's Jordan. "So when we do oldies and we do Christmas music, it's the same thing."
But the former move, with WMJX picking up the holiday tunes, fit with a national trend. Scott Fybush, editor of the industry website North East Radio Watch, points out that across the country usually adult-contemporary - not oldies - stations pick up the format.
"The real hotbed for all-Christmas has been in the AC format," he says. "The demographics of the AC format - mostly female, 35-54 [-year-olds] - fit so perfectly with the demo that advertisers want to hit at holiday time with Christmas music."
This year WMJX will compromise, mixing holiday music into its regular soft "adult" rock after Thanksgiving, says Don Kelley, vice president and director of programming for Greater Media's Boston stations. "We got a lot of feedback saying, 'I like Christmas music, but I like you guys doing what you do,' " says Kelley. As it did last year, the adult-contemporary station will escalate to an all-holiday format by Christmas week.
This gradual shift may be more in keeping with national trends. "We're only up to 31 stations [nationally] on the official list thus far," Fybush says. "That's lagging behind last year. I hear that there will be a lot of additions over the next week, so my perception is that there's a backlash . . . from consumers when they try to start Christmas promotions too early."
Over at the oldies stations, however, the switch is right on time. Last year, says WODS program director Pete Falconi, the station switched on Nov. 15 - three days later than this year. But, as general manager Jordan pointed out, "Thanksgiving was a little later."
Spinning the dial
This week, Clark Smidt closed on Lowell station WCAP-AM (980), officially becoming the talk station's new owner. . . . National Public Radio, along with 12 NPR member stations, has launched a new free multimedia website, npr.org/music. As one of the 12 stations, WGBH will provide content, including features, performances, and reviews. . . . "First Ladies of Music With Virginia Eskin," a radio documentary produced by the WFMT Radio Network in Chicago and Northeastern University, has received a Clarion Award from the Association of Women in Communications. The 13-week, one-hour series was hosted by Northeastern visiting artist Eskin and has aired on more than 100 stations, including WGBH.