What if, six years ago, the major group broadcasters that participated in the HD Radio Alliance had decided that holiday music was going to be the exclusive province of digital radio? When I went to Radio Shack to buy my $99 Accurian radio, what if the floor sample had been blaring holiday music throughout the store (instead of not plugged in)? Among the 16 New York-area high-definition multicast channels that existed at the time, there would have been holiday music for every taste-not just the AC variant.
That bit of collusion could perhaps have never legally happened. Instead, most group owners went the other way, keeping their HD multicast channels away from any format with a viable place on FM already. But given the potency of holiday music-very much apparent by 2006-it sure seems like the one thing that could have prompted more consumers to procure and learn to use an HD radio.
In the long term, a separate holiday channel (or suite) might have worked to the benefit of existing AC stations as well. Mainstream AC stations wouldn't be forced to sacrifice two weeks of November programming to be "first in." Labels might still be providing the AC format with a few viable hits of its own throughout the year, rather than waiting until November to work new versions of the chestnuts.
I'm indulging this fantasy because in other parts of the world, holiday music has been handed off to digital radio. It happened in the United Kingdom with Smooth FM's very different, more soulful take on Christmas music. It's happening this year in Australia where Clear Channel's ARN has just launched Elf Radio, on digital radio and online.
If you don't like holiday music as it exists on mainstream AC radio in the United States, Elf Radio is a decidedly alternate take on the format, not unlike what it might sound like if mainstream AC in America had never achieved agenda-setting power over holiday music. The songs are still mostly the familiar standards. But there's a heavier emphasis on the classic rock artists of the A Very Special Christmas era. There are also a lot of covers of the standards by contemporary Australian acts. And, in the hour I listened, there was none of the '50s/'60s MOR that is such a part of the format here.
In other words, on Elf Radio, "Silent Night" is by Stevie Nicks. "White Christmas" is by Lady Gaga. "The Little Drummer Boy" is by Destiny's Child. "Blue Christmas" is by Delta Goodrem (who would certainly have a major place on any Australian holiday station that was programmed from the U.S. template). "The Christmas Song" is by current Australian hitmaker Guy Sebastian, whose rest-of-the-year music has been supported by SiriusXM here. Even "Mistletoe," the Justin Bieber song, is by local "turbo-pop" act Justice Crew.
There was one interesting call here. Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" isn't played as a holiday song in America. But, yes, it does mention Christmas gifts.
When I heard it during local middays, Elf Radio was unhosted with just music and stagers. Well-produced by digital side channel standards, it's still not a full-fledged radio station. But it does offer some sense of place, since several of those stagers refer to "dashing through the surf."
Here's Elf Radio just before 1 p.m. Melbourne time:
Pretenders, "2000 Miles"
Stevie Nicks, "Silent Night"
Bruce Springsteen, "Merry Christmas Baby"
Human Nature, "Last Christmas"
U2, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
Tina Arena, "Christmas Gives Me The Chance"
Slade, "Merry Christmas Everybody"
Queen, "Thank God It's Christmas"
Lady Gaga, "White Christmas"
Michael Bublé, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
Justice Crew, "Mistletoe"
Delta Goodrem, "Blue Christmas"
Stevie Wonder, "I Wish"
Shane Jacobs, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
Johnny Ruffo, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
Damien Leith, "When A Child Is Born"
John Mellencamp, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"
Rachel Leahcar, "Silent Night"
Deni Hines, "This Christmas"
Macy Gray, "Winter Wonderland"
Mariah Carey, "All I Want For Christmas Is You"