When Black Friday Falls

So it’s “Black Friday” today. The phrase, as I understand it, is a bit of retailing/advertising industry slang that has crept into general usage only within the last decade at the most—it’s easier to say “Black Friday sale” than “After-Thanksgiving sale,” which is what advertisers used to say. “Black” supposedly refers to the time of year at which retailers get into the black for the year, although I’d be curious to know what percentage of Black Friday shoppers know that.

I hear “Black Friday” and I associate it with something bad, like the stock market crash that signaled the start of the Great Depression, on a day that was called Black Thursday. And there’s that Steely Dan song too, the 1975 single from Katy Lied:

When Black Friday comes
I’ll stand down by the door
And catch the gray men
As they dive from the 14th floor

Sounds serious.

Black Friday is the day when many radio stations start adding Christmas music to the rotation. To spark the holiday mood, some stations go solid Christmas music for today only—Magic 98 does, and I’ll be on the air this afternoon from 3 to 7 U.S. Central. In 1984, shortly after I had taken over as program director at WKAI, the general manager, a kindly man who’d been at the station for years, had not hired me, and did not quite know how to take me, asked during Thanksgiving week if we would be playing Christmas music all day on Friday, which the station had done in its earlier, pre-me incarnation. I looked at him like he had two heads and dismissed the idea. It made no sense to me.

In his radio programming newsletter this week, consultant Dan O’Day suggested that stations put their brand at risk by relying too heavily on Christmas music. I dimly understood this in 1984, a time when there was much less format-appropriate Christmas music available than there is now. I would have couched the argument like this: We’re a Top 40 station programmed to kids, so suddenly switching to Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby for a day would make no sense. There would be a time for Nat and Bing on my air, but a month before Christmas was not that time. (Magic 98 today is another story. Today’s Christmas-a-thon is a strong component of the station’s brand.)

Years ago, it was rare for the stations I knew to play continuous Christmas music much before Christmas Eve. Instead, holiday songs would be worked in gradually, a few at a time, and more as Christmas got closer. Thirty years ago at KDTH, an old-school full-service AM station, we’d do every other song even on the morning of the 24th, only plunging completely into the pool later in the day.

Here at this blog, we will stick to the traditions we know, and mix in the Christmas music alongside our regular crap, but we’ll bow to current practice and start today instead of waiting a week, as I would have done at WKAI. And we’ll begin as we usually do. During the jump-blues craze of the 1990s, few bands did it better than Chicago’s Mighty Blue Kings. Ten years ago, they released a Christmas album that almost never gets out of the player at our house each holiday season. For the last several years, they’ve done special Christmas shows in Chicago, but this year, they’re doing one at Shank Hall in Milwaukee on December 18. Do The Mrs. and I have our tickets yet? Hell and yes.

“Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday”/Mighty Blue Kings (buy it here)

6 responses

  1. ““Black” supposedly refers to the time of year at which retailers get into the black for the year, although I’d be curious to know what percentage of Black Friday shoppers know that.”

    When I was a business reporter, that bit of info made it into every Black Friday story I wrote. I’d like to imagine most other business writers do the same.
    (Although who reads newspapers any more?)

  2. The station where I used to work eased into the holiday season. The holiday music was kept in a box in the cellar, which I — as the youngest guy there and the evening jock — was supposed to locate and bring into the studio about a week before Thanksgiving.

    Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, they would play a Christmas song once evey hour. A week later, it would go to two per hour, three per hour a week after that and so on, until the day before Christmas. Only then would they go to a 24-hour all-Christmas schedule.

    After two days of that, on Dec. 26, it all went back into its box, and I was the one who carted the box back down to its place in the cellar when I showed up for my shift. I always found that funny…make a big deal about the Holiday music, then unceremoniously toss it back in the cellar for 11 months.

    1. I think I have blogged about the phenomenon of radio stations banishing Christmas from consciousness on December 26–dumping the music abruptly like it was an embarrassing one-night stand. Why wouldn’t you, particularly on a year like this, when Christmas falls on a Saturday, ease out of the music for a day or so, just as you eased into it? We did this one year at one of the stations I worked for, and the response was almost entirely positive.

  3. I like your regular crap comment.

  4. […] the radio dial and it was virtually wall to wall Christmas music – something JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ addressed several days […]

  5. The True Oldies Channel just played “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” and immediately followed it with “Hot Fun In The Summertime.” Must be springtime, then.

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