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Tuesday 26 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
# christmas radio
It's December 1st babe... and for radio listeners, there's no escaping the 'Fairytale'
Ireland’s radio stations begin blasting The Pogues, Band Aid and the like in earnest from today. A little early? You asked for it, apparently.

THE AVERAGE IRISH person will have heard ‘Fairytale of New York’ in its entirety 43 times between now and St Stephen’s Day.

The above sentence, while not necessarily true (unfortunately we’re still waiting on someone to carry out this vital research) will come as no surprise to anyone who spends even a few minutes listening to Irish radio every day.

The general long-established policy in commercial radio has been to hold off on playing the festive hits at least until 1 December has arrived, the obvious logic being that listeners will be sick to death of Shakey, Cliff and the Frog Chorus long before the turkey’s even been ordered if they’re aired any earlier.

But have stations been rolling out their festive playlists earlier and earlier in the last few years? And who decides what songs make the grade anyway? has been chatting to a few people who might know a thing or two…


A screengrab from The Pogues’ iconic ‘Fairytale of New York’ video

“We start from Monday,” says Matt Dempsey, music director and presenter at Dublin’s Q102, which aims its musical output squarely at the over-35s demographic.

“We have a rule not to start before the beginning of December. Definitely not November, people start getting sick of them.”

Dempsey says listener requests for festive tunes are starting earlier and earlier each year.

“It used to be the case that we wouldn’t start playing them until around the 11th, but there’s an increased demand for them. The texts from listeners and requests start coming in from late November.”

So how does it work, wants to know. Do you start with just a handful of popular classics, and then dig out the less obvious stuff as the big day approaches?

“No, we’ll air them all from the start of the month.

“There’s only quite a small number of Christmas songs that are requested all the time and that people want to hear — maybe around 12 songs — Driving Home for Christmas and the like. You see the same requests for the same songs coming in every year.

“So it is getting earlier every year, but that’s in response to demand from listeners.”

imageBruce. A perennial Christmas favourite at Phantom 105.2 [Felipe Dana/AP/Press Association Images]

Over at alternative and indie station Phantom 105.2, music director John Caddell says he’s already played their first Christmas song, and is happy to report there were “no complaints”.

“It was ‘Santa Baby’ — the Bob Dylan version. Bit of a favourite around here.”

Caddell says he decided to break the December deadline on a bit of a whim, “because the Toy Show was on, and it’s just a few days outside. We start the rest of the playlist from the start of the month though”.

So how often are we likely to hear the likes of ‘Fairytale’ then?

“Well, we start playing Christmas songs every two or three hours to begin. Closer to the day, you might hear one every hour or so.

“We’d play some different versions of classic songs though. You won’t hear Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ on Phantom, but you will hear a version by the Manic Street Preachers. We play a Death Cab for Cutie version of Baby Please Come Home, that that sort of thing.

“As Christmas gets closer, you’ll hear some of the older favourites — Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town, for instance.”


George Michael and friends… coming to a radio station near you [Image: WhamVEVO]

And what about the influence of Christmas FM? The charity radio station takes to the airwaves on a month-long temporary BAI licence each year in the run-up to 25 December. It went live last Thursday, and is now its sixth year of operation.

Has the fact that there’s a service playing wall-to-wall Bing Crosby, Paul McCartney and Cliff classics had an influence on the more established players?

Dempsey and Caddell didn’t seem to think so. Garvan Rigby, one of the co-founders of the niche service, is quick to play down their influence too.

“No, we’re very much our own thing, I think,” he says. “I think everything to do with Christmas is getting earlier, that’s all there is to it, it would be very difficult to know how much of an effect we have”.

However, Rigby says he can “categorically confirm we are definitely playing Christmas songs, and will continue to do so”.

“We started this week. Because of our licence we couldn’t physically come on any earlier than that. Then we wrap up on the 26th.”

And how do the songs get chosen, wants to know?

“Well we are playlisted obviously, but we are heavily led by listener requests as well. We air everything from the Housemartins and The Power of Love and East 17 to more unusual versions of Christmas songs and more unique tracks — things like the Christmas Can Can by Straight No Chaser. The fact that we’re non-stop Christmas means we can do that.”

And though some may complain it’s overplayed, it seems Irish listeners can’t get enough of The Pogues’ & Kirsty McColl’s Christmas classic, which has regularly been cited in surveys as the best festive track of all time.

“Looking back at our most requested songs, I would say that it’s always the number one each year,” Rigby says. “You’d have a few requests for it every hour”.

Back at Phantom, Caddell agrees. “Of course we play ‘Fairytale of New York’. It’s an Irish tradition.

“It’s only for a few weeks every year, I think that’s what makes it special and people look forward to hearing it.”

He adds: “It would be wilfully obdurate not to”.

So, on the basis that there’s probably no real point arguing with a man who bandies about words like ‘obdurate’ without a moment’s hesitation, we’ve decided to leave John with the last word on this.

And if you can’t beat them…

(Youtube: RhinoUK)

WATCH: The Irish Christmas song dedicated to emigrants

Also: The Top 10 Toy Show Moments Of All Time>

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