IT was a very merry Christmas indeed for KOST-FM (103.5), whose nonstop slate of holiday music sent the station to the top of the local ratings among listeners 12 and older for the first time in more than a decade, according to Arbitron ratings released Wednesday.
It was the fifth consecutive year that the Clear Channel station had switched to an all Christmas music format in the weeks preceding the holiday, but this was the first time the station had so dominated the ratings. The adult contemporary station rang up a whopping 4.4% of the audience on the strength of its holiday format change, which began Nov. 18, according to the quarterly survey covering the period from Sept. 22 to Dec. 14. Last year, KOST-FM ranked sixth in the 12 and older category, with 3.9% of the listening audience.
"It's phenomenal. We've never pulled a number like this," said Stella Schwartz, KOST program director. "I'm just on a cloud right now."
The trend extended to other big-city radio markets as well, with stations flipping to holiday music shooting up the ratings charts in New York and Chicago. Industry observers were somewhat surprised but speculated that the reasonably strong economy and the growing familiarity of the practice helped push up ratings.
Overall, the number of stations adopting the holiday music format continues to grow. In 2004, about 280 stations switched; last year the total topped 300 -- a figure that included local country-and-western station KZLA-FM (93.9) and Christian-themed KFSH-FM (95.9).
KOST-FM's robust performance supplanted last quarter's No.1 station, KIIS-FM (102.7), which dropped to No. 2 in a tie with Spanish-language station KLVE-FM (107.5). Meanwhile, in the highly coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic, KCBS-FM (93.1), better known as Jack-FM, continued posting strong numbers, placing just behind KOST-FM among English-language stations, with 4%.
"We're very pleased because we feel like we weathered a storm," said Jeff Federman, general manager of Jack-FM. "It's hard to compete with 'Jingle Bells.' "