Not So Silent Nights: Radio Is the Perfect Spot to Find Holiday Spirit

Not So Silent Nights: Radio Is the Perfect Spot to Find Holiday Spirit

Sleigh bells might be ringing, but what really gets U.S. consumers in the holiday spirit is, literally, the sound of music!

According to a recent Nielsen survey, nearly half of all respondents (49.5%) said hearing holiday music on the radio put them in the holiday spirit. However, it seems that the holiday state of mind resonates differently among the sexes—57% of women said hearing holiday music on the radio put them in a holiday mood, compared with 42% of men.

And according to Nielsen Music, radio stations are more than happy to help listeners get in the spirit by flipping to holiday tunes this time of the year. Formats that move to “All-Christmas” have traditionally benefited from a boost in ratings.

Among all formats, Adult Contemporary (AC) stations historically lead the holiday music category, typically switching from Christopher Cross to Kris Kringle right around Thanksgiving. In 2013, these stations played the most holiday music with over 1.1 million spins, and 45% of all holiday music airing on the radio came from AC. 


Adult Contemporary (AC) 1,144,765 2,861
Christian AC 515,253 1,660
Country 213,767 1,226
Classic Hits 178,735 1,343
Hot AC 146,420 1,036
Source: Nielsen Music

But despite the thousands of holiday songs available, stations often focus on fan favorites. In fact, 122 holiday songs were played so often that they generated 69% of the airplay last year—showing that a small portion of the holiday universe drives seasonal programming. That means these tinsel-tinged tunes will be played at least four times each day, every day, between now and the end of the year. As a result, holiday “power” songs form the foundation of the gingerbread house that is the All-Christmas format.

So, what were the top holiday songs in 2013?

It seems like everything old is new again. In 2013, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which debuted in 1962, topped the charts and is still a holiday classic for many AC stations. What’s more, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which is now over 20 years old, was the most current holiday song to make the top 10 list last year. The average debut year of the top 10 holiday songs was 1966.


Rank Artist Song Debut Year
1 Brenda Lee Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree 1962
2 Bobby Helms Jingle Bell Rock 1962
3 Burl Ives A Holly Jolly Christmas 1965
4 Andy Williams It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 1963
5 Nat King Cole The Christmas Song 1949
6 Mariah Carey All I Want for Christmas Is You 1994
7 John Lennon Happy X-Mas (War is Over) 1975
8 Band Aid Do They Know It’s Christmas? 1984
9 Jose Feliciano Feliz Navidad 1970
10 Bing Crosby White Christmas 1944
Source: Nielsen Music, Adult Contemporary Panel (74 Stations)


Included in this article are insights from a Nielsen custom survey, which was conducted using an English-language online survey of 1,143 respondents from a general population sample of those aged 18 years old or older.

Nielsen Music measured holiday music airplay data in 2013 across all monitored U.S. radio stations, in addition to a specific AC panel of 74 stations.