It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas, at least for listeners of 99.9 KEZ. The popular Phoenix radio station made its annual switch to an all-Christmas format on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 7:40 a.m.
"Everyone knows that we’re the Christmas music station," said Paul Kelley, program director for KESZ-FM. "People talk about it all year."
It's certainly become a tradition in the Valley. The station has been flipping to a Christmas format since 1998. As in past years, the change was signaled with a spin of Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
The 1963 recording "truly defines what the season is about," Kelley says, but it's more than simply that: The tune is a favorite of Beth McDonald, the station's flagship personality.
Radio personality Beth McDonald is genuinely a fan of Christmas music. (Photo: iHeartMedia)
Williams doesn't normally feature on the station's playlist, but the holiday season typically brings him back into the fold.
"Some things change, some things never change," Kelley says. "Andy Williams, Nat 'King' Cole, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee, Johnny Mathis — those are always there, but as time goes on, we hear updated versions of some of the songs from Michael Bublé, Kelly Clarkson and Josh Groban."
There is a reason holiday material continues to resonate with audiences.
"I think all music has an emotional connection for people," he says. "People tie specific memories to some of these songs. I think back to when I was a kid, and I was listening to Bing Crosby sing 'White Christmas.' It was the '80s, and it still meant something to me. Maybe this season a kid is hearing it for the first time."
And for those all bah-humbuggers who say it's too early to break out Barbra Streisand's "Jingle Bells" — impossible! — here's some news that may surprise: The station only launched the Christmas format two days earlier than last year. And, Kelley noted, other iHeart stations, such as KOST (103.5 FM) in Los Angeles and WLIT (93.9 FM) in Chicago, already made the switch.
"Merry Christmas" by Johnny Mathis was released in 1958 and has sold more than 5 million copies. (Photo: Sony)
"No matter what time of year it is, there are some people who are not ready for Christmas music," Kelley said, steering people to the iHeartRadio app for options.
The all-Christmas format will remain until midnight Dec. 25.
The station also announced that it will begin airing this week radio personality Delilah's self-titled program from 7 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Fridays.
Delilah, who attracts more than 8 million listeners a week, has a special bond with her audience, Kelley says.
KEZ (99.9 FM) personality Beth McDonald (from left), musician Jim Brickman and radio personality Delilah celebrate at a promotional event for the station on Nov. 13, 2017, in Scottsdale. (Photo: iHeartMedia)
"Delilah actually cares," he says. "It sounds disingenuous to say that someone can care about millions and millions of people, but you can see that in her work, you can hear it in the things she says and how she interacts with people."
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or 602-444-8849. Twitter.com/randy_cordova.
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