Music News & Reviews

Ho, ho, ho! It’s another Christmas music radio war in Kansas City

Mariah Carey’s Christmas music joins the lineup on KCMO.
Mariah Carey’s Christmas music joins the lineup on KCMO. AP

If you’re looking for Christmas music on the radio in Kansas City, just remember “94.”

This holiday season, country station KFKF, 94.1 FM, will get some competition from the station just beside it on the dial: KCMO, 94.9 FM.

Yep, festive folks, we have another Christmas music war on our hands, just like in the olden days of the early 2000s when Star 102 and KUDL — both defunct now — would battle it out. Star 102 was one of the first stations in the country to adopt an all-Christmas format.

KCMO-FM flipped to Christmas at 5 p.m. Friday. Last year the “classic hits” station turned some evenings and weekends over to holly-jolly music.

“This year we decided to go, as they say, all in,” program director and afternoon host Gary Nolan said.

KCMO typically plays oldies from the late 1960s to the early ’80s, but the parameters have been expanded for holiday music, Nolan said. That means you’ll hear Mariah Carey, Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr. in addition to standards by Andy Williams, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby and the like.

“Christmas music blends nicely with our core audience and baby boomers,” Nolan said. And many of the artists the station usually plays — like the Eagles, John Mellencamp, Whitney Houston and the Beach Boys — “have Christmas music, and people are really familiar with that.”

KFKF, meanwhile, is holding off on Christmas music until 2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

“We have a one-holiday-at-a-time policy,” said KFKF program director and morning host Dale Carter. “We certainly don’t want Thanksgiving to lose any of its prominence on the holiday calendar.”

This will be KFKF’s fourth year to go all-Christmas.

Christmas stations usually reap huge ratings in December. In KFKF’s case, “typically we’re No. 1 in every day part and demographic,” Carter said. Listenership “definitely builds” the closer it gets to Christmas Day.

But all-holiday stations see their numbers fall off in the new year, sometimes drastically.

KFKF’s way around that is to never let listeners forget it’s a country station.

“There will be some country artists” in the holiday rotation, such as Garth Brooks and Martina McBride, Carter said. “That’s who we are and what we’ve done for 51 years. We’ll mix it all together.”

KFKF has “managed to keep a big portion of that (Christmas music) audience into the first quarter,” Carter said. “We try and use that month we’re playing Christmas music to get listeners, maybe hook them on some of the artists they don’t hear anywhere else, as a reason to come back.”

Nolan at KCMO has a similar philosophy: “You explain to (new listeners) what you do all year round.”

He has seen at adult contemporary stations he’s worked at an “afterglow” into January and February “when listenership remains high,” although not as high as in December.

But yes, when a station first switches from its normal playlist to Christmas, not everyone’s happy.

“We get some haters at first,” Nolan said, “and then it slowly starts turning around.”

To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or send email to Twitter: @tim_engle.