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What Christmas Means for Radio

The title of the (somewhat cheeky) Washington Post piece said it all: “We can’t take any more of 2017, so we’ve turned to the Hallmark Channel in desperation.”

Most radio broadcasters seem to think that Christmas is about Christmas music, but it’s not. And while Christmas is ultimately about the birth of Christ, that’s not the meaning I’m talking about either.

Christmas is a time of hope, of kindness, of togetherness, of love, and of nostalgia.

And in an era of political divisions so broad and so deep, an era when politics is everything and everything is political, an era when crass name-calling and sexual harassment and pedophilia are as near as every single newscast and every other tweet, Christmas is an emotional oasis, a shining destination that reminds us of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

And nobody understands that better than Hallmark:

We would typically be the first person to mock the idea of the Hallmark Channel, but there is something specific about this December: It’s crap. The news stinks, current events stink — turning on the television, in general, stinks. Another beloved icon revealed to be a sexual predator? Nope — let’s watch Hallmark. Another North Korean missile, now deemed capable of hitting the United States? Nope — Hallmark. The president is retweeting fake video clips of — NOPE, LA LA LA LA. HALLMARK. HALLMARK. HALLMARK. “It’s like, Hallmark or Prozac?” offers Julie Miner, an adjunct professor of public health at George Mason University and one of the many people who, for reasons they cannot fully explain, are watching a truckload of Hallmark this season. “Like, I don’t want to take anti-depressants, but at this point in 2017, it’s that or its Hallmark.”

In my own research I have seen firsthand the appetite for something positive, something meaningful, something nurturing and uplifting. And this appetite is particularly strong among Women 25-54, the very people gravitating to Christmas music every holiday season and the very demo so important in every radio ad buy. My research shows that listeners are hungry for an alternative to what passes for current events.

Consider this:

“The Christmas Train” — with a plot that is vaguely “Murder on the Orient Express,” if one replaces “murder” with “festive spirit” — reached 4.9 million viewers when it aired the Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend, the most-watched cable program in the country that day. Meanwhile, the actual “Murder on the Orient Express,” a feature film starring two Oscar winners and several nominees, recently made $10.7 million on its opening day in theaters. Impressive — but divide by roughly $10 a movie ticket, and that means there were five times as many people watching Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Dermot Mulroney poke around a mystical polar express on Hallmark as there were multiplex-goers watching Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench.

If you believe that Christmas is just about “Christmas music” rather than why your audience wants to hear that Christmas music, then you are missing the point.

Not surprisingly, some Christian music stations (which I am proud to call clients) understand this better than most, because many of the central tenets of Christmas (even the secular ones) are woven into their brands all year long (just as they are with Hallmark). This season offers an opportunity to surface those strengths in fresh ways.

This is not about a snappy new tagline that will solve all your problems in some quaint 1980’s Ries & Trout-style. It’s about a roster of strategies and tactics designed to make people actually feel better in a world of fighting and arguing and hate and battling talking heads and juvenile behavior and powerful men exploiting others for sex. Some of us are trying to raise children in this environment, and this general assholery makes our jobs harder than they already are.

Where is the relief? Where is the promise of something brighter and better? Where is the positive alternative?

From the Post:

Watching Hallmark in December this year feels like a metaphor for all of the good citizenship questions we’ve been asking ourselves: Must we watch yet more CNN guests debate the tax bill? Must we have yet another fight on Facebook about Roy Moore? Must we always remain alert, in case the country just curls up and dies? Should we be watching a climate-change documentary instead? Or is there time in the middle of all of that to just . . . watch Hallmark? [It’s] the kindness. How the channel is just a steady stream of people doing kind things for each other and being nice…that seems, right now, almost like a fantasy.

Ultimately, what’s more important than playing the “most Christmas music station” or being the “official Christmas station” or – God forbid – simply being “#1 for Christmas” is to understand why any of this matters to the people at the other end of the speakers or earbuds.

We need some kindness. We need an environment to raise our children happy and healthy. We need to know that everything will be all right. We need to remember the smell of the fresh cookies and grandma’s house all those years ago when we first heard the holiday tunes which are now evergreen.

As one of Hallmark’s stars put it: “You just get tired of the bad news, you know? You just want something that feels genuine, and heartwarming, and loving.”

Yes, you do.

Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa.

Just plain Happy.

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