KEZE/Spokane, Wash. Rocks The Holidays

KEZE/Spokane, Wash. Rocks The Holidays

This time of year, nearly all the reporters to Billboard's Adult Contemporary radio airplay chart transform their airwaves into a non-stop winter wonderland of holiday music.

Standards from Ray Conniff, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams temporarily replace current adult pop fare.

Johnny Mathis takes over for John Mayer.

Rarer is the flip of a rock-based station to holiday music 24/7, which sets the programming on Morgan Murphy Media-owned KEZE (96.9 the River)/Spokane, Wash. apart this yuletide season.

Since Nov. 15, the station has tweaked its adult alternative format for a rock-flavored menu of all-holiday songs. While normally offering secular music from artists such as Coldplay, Jack Johnson and U2, KEZE is gift-wrapping a unique selection of festive fare primarily from fellow adult rock artists. (Listeners can stream the station live on its website).

KEZE music director and midday air talent Kristen Kurtis discusses the station that has its listeners rockin' around this holiday season.

Why did KEZE's decision-makers make the changes to all-holiday programming when, generally, seasonal songs are the domain of adult, not rock-based, stations?

As part of a reorganization of our cluster's stations, KEZE moved to the 96.9 frequency (from 99.9) Jan. 1, 2010, and it takes listeners awhile to catch onto changes. Also, KEZE's 96.9 signal is weaker than our previous one, so it's been a double-whammy for our audience.

By creating such a unique holiday station, we were hoping not only to garner more attention and, eventually, more listeners, but also to protect our group's pop/adult pop hybrid, KZZU (92.9, Modern Hit Music), which always takes a hit in the winter ratings when its competitor, AC KISC (Lite Rock Kiss 98.1), flips to all-holiday music.

Does KEZE's setting - a not-so-sultry Pacific Northwest - add to the all-holiday listening experience?

We've already been blanketed under a foot of snow. It's flurrying as I answer this and we're expecting another 4-8 inches. Forget Christmas; here, we were dreaming of a white Thanksgiving.

Our holiday music has made it easier to accept an incredibly early winter.

What has the audience reaction been so far to wall-to-wall holiday music?

At first, borderline abusively angry. Like, "I-deleted-you-from-my-car-settings-and-will-never-listen-again," wild-attacks-on-our-integrity angry.

The major complaint was that it was too early, and, at Nov. 15, I agree. The idea, however, was for us to be the first station to flip in the market and better our chances at branding ourselves as the Christmas station this year.

After the initial negative reaction, it certainly seems to be working. I've received a few e-mails already from listeners wanting to know the artists and titles of songs that we're playing. Once the shock passed, people have liked what we're doing.

Is it difficult, though likely fun, digging for rock-based holiday songs when so many such recordings are by pop artists?

More tedious than difficult. Being music fanatics, my fiancé and I found some gems between the two of us. There was a small section of albums in the station's CD library that had never been imported to our computerized automation.

I spent a good amount of time searching the holiday genre on iTunes, which was fruitful, and we benefitted from an influx of songs from our record company colleagues.

After we made the switch, even our listeners have offered some helpful suggestions. It has all come together quite nicely.

What are some of the rock artists and songs that define KEZE's unique approach to holiday music?

We have a power rotation of 15 new holiday songs, the most exclusive being a gorgeous version of "2000 Miles" that Lucy Schwartz recorded just for us.

Also in that category is regionally-local artist Ali Milner's "I Love Christmas," Fitz & the Tantrums' "Santa Stole My Lady" and Dave Barnes' "Christmas Tonight."

Other, older holiday greats: Billy Idol's "Happy Holiday," No Doubt's cover of the Vandals' "Oi to the World," Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson's "Winter Song" and Martin Sexton's entire "Camp Holiday" album.

Here is a sample hour of KEZE (Monday, Dec. 6, 12-1 p.m.), according to Nielsen BDS:

"Father Christmas," Kinks
"Blue Christmas," Bright Eyes
"I Saw Three Ships," Sting
"2000 Miles," Lucy Schwartz
"Thanks for Christmas," XTC
"Hawaiian Christmas Song (Mele Kalikimaka)," Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters
"Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," Bruce Springsteen

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas," Weezer
"Winter Wonderland," Andy Williams
"Fruitcake," Superions
"The Chanukah Song," Adam Sandler
"Little Drummer Boy," Greg Laswell

KEZE isn't entirely rock-centric during the holidays. Does the rock jock in you cringe (just a bit) when you play holiday songs by Madonna, Jose Feliciano or the Beach Boys? Or, is the music just too fun, and the season too joyous, for any such scoffing?

Most of the pop cuts sound charming. Plus, they complement the more off-beat rock songs we're playing and add necessary familiarity.

Not only that, Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma and raised in Spokane.

What other elements of the station add to the overall holiday presentation, i.e., promotions and production?

We have a whole new set of holiday sweepers, including IDs from artists wishing listeners a happy holiday season.

Within our cluster, KZZU continues its tradition, now in its 15th year, of a wonderful promotion, Christmas Wish, that helps provide families with goods and services, from overdue utility bills to baby items or food. The program aims to make the holidays a bit brighter for families who, due to illness or financial difficulties, may be encountering trying times.

What's your favorite holiday song?

My personal favorite at the moment is "Sound the Trumpet" by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

All-time, it's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," either the original by Judy Garland or my favorite cover, by Tori Amos.

What's your favorite holiday memory?

When I was nine, I unwrapped a Sega CDX and had to ask my dad what it was, since I had not asked for any video game system.

We spent the rest of the day playing "Sonic" and "Streets of Rage."

I've kept it all in mint condition.