It's only November 1 and already there are visions of sugar plumbs dancing in radio executive's heads. Stations in St. Louis and Tulsa have already started with an all-Christmas music format putting up their audio holiday decorations just as they were putting away their Halloween trappings. Makes you wonder what happened to Thanksgiving doesn't it?
In both of these cases, the extremely early change is primarily driven by management's decision to change the station's year round format to something new. They can play Christmas music until late December while preparing to roll out their new product with the New Year.
That isn't the only reason though. In many cities, more than one station in a market will change to the all-holiday format and the conventional wisdom is that the first to start will get the majority of the credit in Arbitron's radio ratings.
That remains true in smaller cities like Tulsa, but in larger cities like Chicago, where Arbitron's electronic rating system The Personal People Meter is in use, the "first in wins" mentality may not hold true. The new system logs which station a person actually listens to. The old system, called the diary, made listeners write down which stations they listened to. Relying on listener's memories often resulted in the first station getting credit because that's who the listener associated with holiday music even if it was really the other station they had heard.
Regardless of the ratings systems though, it seems likely that before it begins to look a lot like Christmas in Chicago, it will likely start to sound like it. For reference, at this time last year Clear Channel AC WLIT already had a countdown clock posted on their Web site touting their eventual roll-out of the all-Christmas sound. As of this posting, the clock had not reappeared but it probably won't be much longer.