Radio stations get big bump from Christmas favorites

Christmas music season always draws a crowd.

Charlotte’s WKQC-FM (“K” 104.7) and WRCM-FM (“New Life” 91.9) went wall-to-wall Yule tunes the day before Thanksgiving. It works magic on their ratings every year.

John Reynolds, operations manager at CBS-owned WKQC, says the number of listeners increased 27 percent last year from November to December, a trend that the contemporary-music station sees annually.

“It provides a format that brings in people all around the city,” he says.

WKQC does research to find out what songs are the most popular in Charlotte. No. 1 this year – and you’ll be hearing it a lot on “K” – is the 1970 release of “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano.

Other top songs in rotation at the station are “All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey, “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams.

Standards tend to be the hits every year. Kelly Clarkson’s new song, “Underneath the Tree,” is the only fresh recording getting much attention this year, Reynolds says.

At WRCM, which saw a 31 percent increase in listeners last holiday season, Christmas music brings a new audience to the nonprofit station that carries a contemporary Christian format.

Station manager Joe Paulo says it’s a strategic move for WRCM because it attracts people who are unfamiliar with the station’s upbeat Christian genre. Every year, January ratings are strong, he says, because people tend to stick around the dial after the holidays.

WRCM tests 150 Christmas songs during its annual research, asking listeners to rank their favorites or whether they’ve grown tired of the release. This year, No. 1 in the research for the station is “Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant, which traces the spiritual journey of Mary to Bethlehem, says Dwayne Harrison, WRCM’s program director and midday host.

WRCM also plays Christmas music all day on Halloween, as sort of a heads-up to listeners that the season is coming. Some people like it that early, some don’t.

“They either love it or call us up and tell us they hate it,” Paulo says.

An analysis by Nielsen shows that radio Christmas music listening peaks on Christmas Eve when ratings surge 582 percent over any average day. Examining the airplay charts from the nation’s top 10 Christmas music stations last year, Nielsen found stations played 34 versions of “Winter Wonderland” from various artists, with the Eurythmics’ version being the most played.

Media movers

Joining WJZY’s (Channel 46) news team for an expected January launch is meteorologist Rob Eicher, who comes from the Fox affiliate in Orlando. Also on the staff of the Fox station is Shannon Dawn Rauch as a social media specialist and J. Nicole Johnson as senior web producer.

Former WBT-AM (1110) morning news host Al Gardner returns to the Charlotte airwaves as a weekly Monday host with Lanny Ford on “The Bottom Line,” which airs at 6 p.m. on WZGV-AM (“ESPN” 730). Gardner, who left WBT in 2011 after 14 years, will be talking sports and his two personal passions, boxing and golf. Beverly Dorn-Steele, a 33-year veteran of WTVI (Channel 42) is recognized by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with an American Graduate Champion award for her work through the station in helping literacy.

Among the wounded veterans featured on the documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor,” which is being shown on Showtime, is Darisse Smith, a graduate of Davidson College who lives in Charlotte. She was an Army helicopter pilot in Iraq who now does stand-up comedy. She’ll be performing at the Comedy Zone at the Music Factory on Dec. 29.