Gather ‘round kiddies and let your good old Uncle Paige tell you a scary Christmas story.
“A scary Christmas story Uncle Paige?”
Yes Erin. Climb up here. The rest of you crowd around.
Now all of you get real close and I’ll tell you a story. A sad story about a radio station that didn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas.
It was Christmas 1993 and your Uncle Paige was flying home the weekend before the holidays from the station in New York. I’d just spent five weeks dealing with some really stupid people and my Christmas spirit? Well, time was running out and I just didn’t feel very Christmassy. My cab fought an ice storm all the way to Laguardia and once I was in the terminal and dealing with angry, rushed New York travelers, it didn’t put me in any better of a mood.
And then I got on the plane. The flight attendants were wearing reindeer antlers. Mistletoe hung from the doorway as you boarded. They handed out candy canes as they delivered drinks. Someone had stuck in a CD of carols and these played as we sat on the ground. The pilot had even gotten into it the mood as was doing his cabin announcements as Santa.
By the time we got to a “major hub” where I had to change planes, I’d actually kind of gotten into it. A spark, a flicker of Christmas spirit had begun to bubble up from deep within the cold recesses of my heart. I deplaned to a concourse thronged with holiday travelers rushing to-and-fro, laden with packages. Trees adorned the terminal and choirs were serenading the masses. (Clearly pre-9/11) Feeling pretty darn festive, I stepped into the airport bar (big surprise) to find the waitress dressed as an elf with flashing twinkle lights wrapped around her and plugged into a battery pack. With 90 minutes to kill, I whipped out my walkman and tuned in to that market’s heritage CHR.
For the next hour I heard no mention of Christmas. The weekend contest was a movie ticket giveaway with not one element added that could have possibly differentiated it from any contest in February or May or September. They were doing a remote at some client that had no possible spin to it. They were just there. No callers being aired, talking about shopping or their holiday plans. It was as if the station was being piped in from Mars.
My Christmas spirit disappeared slowly. Like an icicle melting in the sun. By the time I tossed my radio back in the bag and headed for my gate, my burgeoning feeling of happiness and festiveness was but a memory. I got on the plane to Minneapolis sad and dispirited. And imagine, if they did that to me in just 90 minutes, how do you think the people at home, wrapping presents or decorating the tree, or the people listening in their cars as they fought for the last parking spot at the mall must’ve felt?
“Wow, Uncle Paige. Those people at that radio station sure were dumbasses. Didn’t they know that it was the weekend before Christmas?”
True, Erin. True. How could they NOT have known. It was all around them. And yet, they plowed on, oblivious to the universe that their listeners and everyone else in town were operating in. Like they were broadcasting from some time warp in a parallel universe.
“Gee, Uncle Paige. That was a scary story.”
So right Erin. Now let me tell you the story of the reindeer baby that was turned into veal…
Christmas is a Vibe. It’s something that you need to wrap yourself in. It can’t be just some acknowledgement through a morning show bit or weekend contest. Your audience lives and breathes the holidays starting on Thanksgiving. If you don’t sound like you’re tapped into that vibe, you’re going to sound like an idiot. Like one of the many generic sounding radio stations out there that are slowly stagnating and choking this industry to death.
Your contesting is one way to be a part of this vibe. Many of the stations are going to have one constant contesting methodology that will tie everything they do together. But Christmas is more. It’s whatever the hot toy is this year. It’s office parties. It’s trees. It’s being at the malls. It’s parades in many markets. It’s music. It’s tricking out the website. It’s coming up with fifty holiday topics and using them as stream-starters on Facebook. It’s whatever the holiday lifestyle of your audience is. If your audience goes skating, then you need to be doing skating parties.
It’s doing what this guy did, vt-ing a station in Minneapolis from St. Louis and painting a picture of a woman stuck in traffic in a suburban mall parking lot. At that moment, it sounded like the weekend before Christmas in the Twin Cities.
So many radio stations DON’T get it, that to go in and SOUND like you are a part of what the audience is going through, is going to eclipse what the competition is doing.
I think that sometimes we forget that we can be an adjective to people’s lives. That we can be more then background music. And this is the time of year to do it.