Christmas came early to country station KZLA-FM (93.9) this year very early.


At 5 a.m. on Nov. 21 a full three days before Thanksgiving the station kicked off its new all-holiday music format with a George Strait rendition of "Frosty the Snowman."


That's Christmas music, 24/7, all the way through Dec. 25.


The Emmis Communications Corp. country station is now the second Los Angeles radio outlet that has gone to a temporary, all-holiday music format, joining Clear Channel Communications Inc.'s KOST-FM (103.5), an adult contemporary station that began the format in 2000.


And with good reason. Not only is KOST attracting listeners, it has found success drawing and keeping advertising dollars, something that other stations nationwide also have discovered.


Courtney Van Ess, KOST's programming coordinator, said that since the station began running holiday tunes in 2000, advertiser response has been overwhelming, driven by the popularity of the music with listeners. "We like people who go shopping, and so do advertisers," Van Ess said.


The format is even more popular in other markets. This year, there are five all-Christmas stations in Columbus, Ohio, four in Dallas and three each in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Detroit.


Some stations start broadcasting holiday tunes as early as Nov. 1, while most stick to the few weeks on either side of Christmas. Either way, an analysis by media tracking company Media Monitors shows that 60 percent of the top 10 sponsors advertising on a full-time Christmas station in 2004 continued to advertise on those same stations during the subsequent 10 months of 2005, including Kohl's Corp., Home Depot Inc., Verizon Communications and Toys R Us Inc.


"It's a good way to relate to the audience because people know the songs, and retailers like it because it reminds listeners of the season and may drive them to buy," said Tom Zarecki, a Media Monitors spokesman.


Corissa Embro, president of Los Angeles-based Industry Media Specialists, which purchases radio ad time, said all-Christmas formats have become a necessity for some advertisers.


"My target audience is women 25 to 54 years old and I simply couldn't imagine not advertising on an all-Christmas format station during the holiday season, because you would lose so many people," Embro said. "I have ads on Christmas stations right now."


As for KZLA, R.J. Curtis, the station's program director, said that because KZLA and KOST target similar audiences, the country station's ratings slumped each Christmas season when the other station changed to all-holiday music, forcing its hand.


"We had two choices. We could do nothing like we have the past two years, and we know that outcome, or we can get in there and try to do something," Curtis said.

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