- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

A local radio station that traditionally plays "wall-to-wall" Christmas carols the entire day after Thanksgiving has rolled the ratings dice and is airing nothing but seasonal songs until midnight Christmas Day.
That's 33 straight days 792 hours of sleigh bells ringing, chestnuts roasting and wise men adoring the baby Jesus on WASH-FM (97.1).
Program director Steve Allen says the station based its decision to go all-Christmas music, all the time on a demand for seasonal favorites that is a growing national trend.
"We've seen around the country where stations have done this and it's been very successful," Mr. Allen said, citing Phoenix and Atlanta.
Still, he admitted, "it's definitely radical" for a station like WASH with a playlist format of contemporary hits.
"This is a pretty radical departure," Mr. Allen said. "We're a station that plays the Backstreet Boys and Faith Hill. Now, all of a sudden, we're not playing anything we usually do."
Lou Katz, WASH's "afternoon drive" disc jockey, admits to some early skepticism. "I have to say I was a little hesitant at first," he said.
Mr. Katz likely had in mind the reactions of listeners like Holly Mueller, 38, a receptionist in a dentist's office in Montgomery Village.
"I like Christmas songs, don't get me wrong," Mrs. Mueller said. "It would be nice to hear one every once in a while but I think all day from now until Christmas is a bit much."
Mr. Katz was swayed when he saw national statistics reflecting other stations' success with the same strategy. He said the playlist is roughly evenly divided between such religious classics as "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" and more secular songs like "Frosty the Snowman."
The reaction so far from listeners has been good to great, Mr. Allen said.
"We've had huge, positive feedback," he said all of it "overwhelmingly" on the upbeat side.
The program director acknowledges he runs the risk that some listeners will begin to tune out the station and not come back when the Christmas blitz stops Dec. 26.
The upside? "We're providing Christmas music on demand," Mr. Allen said.
"Right now, in Washington, D.C., when you want to hear Christmas music, when you want to feel the Christmas spirit, you know where to turn.
"We understand that not everybody is going to be enthralled with 100 percent Christmas music."
History would second that.
Take the 1994 case of WKOL-FM, the upstate New York station that opted to play Christmas music 365 days a year. A manager of the Amsterdam, N.Y., station told the Albany Times Union newspaper that he could envision listeners throwing summer block parties to the tune of "The 12 Days of Christmas" and other seasonal songs.
But the concept "didn't fly," said a longtime Amsterdam resdient who works for the town's new radio station, WBKK-FM. "We have 30 hours of Christmas music blocked off for this year, and that's it."
What's it like for a DJ who listens to nothing but Christmas tunes during his shift?
"It's not as bad as I expected it to be," Mr. Katz said.
Gaithersburg resident Becky Lewis, 25, says she loves the Christmas-themed martahon and that she and her five co-workers on a dental office staff have listened for the past week.
"I think it's great," Mrs. Lewis said. "It puts you in that festive mood. Everyone in the office has commented about that."
The mother of three said her children also enjoy the constant reminders of what's to come. "Any time we're in the car, they tell me, 'Mom, put on the Christmas music.'"
Over at WRQX-FM (107.3) WASH's closest competitor program director Steve Kosbua offered no criticism of the 33 staright days of Christmas cheer.
"We're just wondering how they're going to do in Kensington," Mr. Kosbua joked, referring to the Montgomery County town whose leaders drew media attention by officially banning Santa Claus from today's Christmas tree lighting.
WRQX, he said, is not considering following WASH's holiday example.

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