Traditionalists might not think to play holiday songs until after Thanksgiving, but L.A.’s radio stations are already getting ready to (jingle bell) rock. This year, two FM stations will be broadcasting 24/7 holiday tunes. KOST 103.5 is the first to go holiday, switching on Friday, November 9, 2018; country music station KKGO 105.1 gets festive on Monday, November 19.
KOST bills itself as “Southern California’s official Christmas station” and is the popular favorite. The station rings in the seasonal programming on Friday evening, with a live event at Disney California Adventure. Gwen Stefani is scheduled to perform and flip the ceremonial switch to holiday programming.
The station has been going with an all-holiday format since 1999. Over the years, the date they start spinning holiday songs has slowly crept closer and closer to Halloween, but 2016 marked a significant jump forward. After the turmoil of the presidential campaign season, KOST made the call to go 24-hour Christmas music on the day after Donald Trump was elected.
The stressful news of 2016 was also a factor in KKGO 105.1 in doing an all-Christmas music format for the first time that year.
“I think Christmas music is more important than ever, just with the recent elections that we’ve had,” KKGO’s program director, Michael Levine, told trade publication All Access Music after the campaign. “I know it’s been draining on people for the last year and a half, two years, so why not provide an escape for everyone?”
Of course, there’s more at play than just a desire by kind figures to salve our collective post-campaign-season nerves with a few plays of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (though it helps). Christmas music means big numbers. KOST performs solidly in the terrestrial radio ratings throughout the year, but when they go holiday, the Arbitron stats go through the roof. Hollywood Reporter has cited national data that a station’s ratings can often double during the weeks it goes all-Christmas. The first year KKGO switched to the Christmas format, they jumped to a 2.8 share of the audience from 1.7 for the same time period in the year before.
“It’s an incredibly important time for the radio station,” Andrew Jeffries, KOST’s vice president of programming told the Los Angeles Times. He added that for the station, the Christmas season “is our Super Bowl.”
Of course, anywhere there’s money to be made, the drama follows. In 2011, the CBS-owned KTWV 94.7 (known as the Wave), staged a surprise bid for the holiday market. That year, they launched Christmas music in mid-November, getting in before KOST’s switch-over. In a bit of radio-land intrigue, O.C. Register reported at the time that KTWV’s entry into the lucrative space was helmed by program director Jhani Kaye–who had just come to CBS after splitting from KOST. After three seasons, a new program director took over the struggling KTWV, and that station no longer does an all-holiday format.
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