by Jason Roop
Update, 6 p.m. -- Ho-ho-hold onto your Santa hats: Like a snowfall on a sunny 76-degree day in Richmond, a local radio station's Christmas music stunt was gone in 12 hours.
A few minutes ago, 103.7 Play came clean on air: Its early jump to a holiday-music format was more like a trick-or-treat. Just kidding! And sorry, there are no gift receipts.
Starting at 6 a.m., the station's flip to Christmas music surprised listeners, who responded with a mix of joy, bewilderment and sheer outrage. It was a topic du jour on social media. Promos touted 103.7 as "Your station for inappropriately early Christmas music."
It may have been a half-day stunt. But was it really that difficult to believe? Across the country, stations are playing Christmas music earlier and earlier. One Twitter user noted that an Alabama station launched its holiday music Sept. 25 -- 84 days out. And 103.7 Play's sister station, Easy 100.9, cranked up its Christmas-music format Oct. 30 last year and kept right on going.
But you'll have to wait a little longer for all that. Afternoon jock Crash, joined in the studio by fellow DJs Melissa, Jack and Jessie, announced that they were pulling your leg and pulling the plug.
"Here's the thing though, we don't want to end up on Santa's naughty list," Melissa Chase said. "So we have a confession for Richmond: Gotcha!"
And then it was back to Walk the Moon's "Shut Up & Dance."
With 79 days till Christmas, 103.7 Play launched its holiday music format this morning. It's the first Richmond radio station -- and perhaps the first in the country, if not one of the first -- to flip the switch.
Last year, the new Easy 100.9 -- owned by the same company, Summit Media -- went live with its Christmas-music format the night before Halloween. Now things are backing up closer to September, with Oct. 7 as the new date to beat next year.
As the New York times noted in a story about the radio industry practice last year:
Even in the age of Pandora and Spotify, the all-holiday format has remained one of radio’s most enduring and profitable gimmicks, with hundreds of stations luring listeners with endless loops of “Feliz Navidad” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” In the last decade, the number of stations embracing the format has nearly doubled, and competition between broadcasters often leads to stations turning earlier and earlier. ...
The origins of all-Christmas radio are disputed, but it began to take hold as a mainstream phenomenon by the mid-1990s. By the end of that decade, the trend had begun to wane, said Mr. Vallie, the consultant, but was embraced anew after the terrorist attacks in 2001. According to Inside Radio, a trade publication, 488 stations adopted the format last year, up from 279 in 2004.
Most of the stations that go all-holiday are usually in the easy-listening or adult contemporary format. But some programmers resist the change, saying that the benefits of gaining even many temporary listeners — the stations usually switch back immediately after Christmas — are outweighed by the risk of losing loyal listeners who are turned off by the seasonal hoopla.
“It’s like Starbucks saying, ‘We’re not going to serve anything but peppermint lattes for the next six weeks,’ ” said Tony Lorino, the program director at KZPT-FM in Kansas City, Mo. “For those six weeks, a lot of people are going to come in and get peppermint lattes, but somebody else who’s just looking for their regular coffee is really upset.”
"It's beginning to look a lot like..." the station teased on Twitter last night. And sure enough, it followed through this morning at 6.
"Surely this is a sign of the end times," @LizCaroon tweeted to the station. But 103.7 seemed to embrace the mixed response, playing a call from one person who vowed to stop listening.
"People have been so negative over the last couple of weeks," co-host Melissa Chase told another caller who cheered the early format, saying she loved Christmas music and would keep listening.
Who will be next? Lite 98? Easy 100.9? Kiss FM? The gauntlet's been thrown.