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Another Classic Radio Christmas Is In Store

3 minute read | December 2015

With Christmas just a few days away, the holiday season is at its peak, including on the radio airwaves where tens of millions of Americans will be tuning into their local holiday music station while dressing the tree, wrapping presents or winding down for a long winter’s nap.

If the last few years were any indication, the appetite for holiday music powered by radio stations that flip to an “All-Christmas” format at the end of the year is showing no signs of slowing down. Last year, 529 stations across the U.S. went “All-Christmas,” setting a record for the most stations ever to do so. So far in 2015, that trend appears to be keeping pace, with nearly 70% of the Nielsen-monitored holiday music stations making the change before the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.

So with that in mind, we’re analyzing this week’s release of the Nielsen December portable people meter (PPM) ratings, which covered Nov. 5, 2015, through Dec. 2, 2015. These ratings give us a peek into what the impact of holiday music on the radio will look like this season. And it’s no surprise that several of the formats that tend to see ratings surge the most during the holidays are once again rising in the ranks based on the December data.

Adult Contemporary (AC), historically the leader of the “All-Christmas” pack, followed up a strong November showing by jumping a full share-point in December, going from 7.6% to 8.6% among listeners age 6 and older. This puts the format just slightly ahead of last December’s pace (8.5% in 2014) and is the best December result since 2012. All of this sets AC up to have another highly successful holiday book, building on last year’s success.

Sister format Hot AC also capitalized on a strong November and kept the momentum going this month, posting its best December ever in PPM measurement across all three of the demographics we analyze. Furthermore, Hot AC’s share with both 18-34 and 25-54 year-old listeners this month ties the all-time highs established earlier this year. Suffice to say, it’s been a very good year for Hot AC, and it looks like it will end 2015 with a bang.

Hot Adult Contemporary December Listening Trends

Hot AC Dec-12 Dec-13 Dec-14 Dec-15
Persons 6+ 5.3% 5.7% 6.5% 6.8%
Persons 18-34 6.0% 6.5% 7.4% 7.7%*
Persons 25-54 5.6% 6.0% 7.0% 7.3%*
Source: Nielsen

One other format saw its momentum from earlier in the year continue in December: Classic Hits. On the heels of another very successful summer ratings run, Classic Hits is pushing ahead of last year’s pace as we approach the holiday book. 2014 was the first time that the format gained listener share during the holiday season thanks to more Classic Hits stations flipping to “All-Christmas” than in years past. This year could be a repeat performance based on the December trend.

Classic Hits December Listening Trends

Classic Hits Dec-12 Dec-13 Dec-14 Dec-15
Persons 6+ 5.2% 5.2% 4.9% 5.3%
Persons 18-34 3.1% 3.2% 3.5% 3.9%*
Persons 25-54 4.6% 4.5% 4.3% 4.6%
Source: Nielsen

Finally, the real stars behind the ratings success of Christmas on the radio are the songs themselves. Once again in 2015, we see that the timeless appeal of classic holiday music continues to resonate, regardless of station or market. Across the country, these were the most played Christmas songs during the December survey.

Most Played Christmas Songs During the December Survey

Artist Song Year Spins
Brenda Lee Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree 1962 10,497
Burl Ives A Holly Jolly Christmas 1965 10,394
Andy Williams It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 1963 10,288
Bobby Helms Jingle Bell Rock 1962 10,167
Jose Feliciano Feliz Navidad 1970 9,741
Nat King Cole The Christmas Song 1949 9,605
Mariah Carey All I Want For Christmas Is You 1994 9,572
Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 1995 8,411
Johnny Mathis It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas 1986 8,400
Bing Crosby White Christmas 1944 8,114
Source: Nielsen


Data used in this report is inclusive of multicultural audiences. Hispanic consumer audiences are composed of both English- and Spanish-speaking representative populations.

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