Sleigh bells ring. Are you listening -- to all Christmas music all the time on WMVN?
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 5, 2008 - University City stay-at-home-mom Stacy Braeske was standing on the corner of Midland and Delmar boulevards ushering her 4-year-old princess into her Halloween parade when a car passed with music blaring -- not with Jay-Z or even with "Monster Mash," but with "Sleigh Ride" by Johnny Mathis.
"I thought, 'That's all I need!'" said Braeske, 40, exasperated. "I don't even have my kids through trick-or-treating yet, let alone the turkey done, and now I have to think about Christmas?! What's got in to these people?"
"These people" are the good folks down at Bonneville St. Louis Radio Group, an outpost of Salt Lake City-based Bonneville International, which happens to be owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and which operates WMVN Movin' 101, in addition to a handful of other local stations in St. Louis.
The station announced on Sept. 22 a change from an upbeat adult contemporary format to all-sports talk starting Jan. 1. Then, on Oct. 10, with little fanfare, it started playing all Christmas music, all the time.
No one at the station returned repeated telephone calls from the Beacon left over several days.
Helene Sherman, a local professor who, as a Jewish woman, never pays much attention to Christmas music to begin with, is irritated by its early debut this year.
"It seems so mercenary," said Sherman, 64. "Doesn't hearing it this early ruin the experience for people who love Christmas music?"
Rev. Brenda Harris, who leads University City United Methodist Church near the U. City Loop, says yes, it does.
"I cover my child's eyes when we walk through the Christmas decorations in the stores too early," said Harris. Now she's tempted to cover her kid's ears when she zooms by the station on her car radio dial. "It not only gets on my nerves, it grates."
It sure makes sense to Jeff Westover, who helps run MerryChristmasRadio.com along with more than 30 all-Christmas websites, dubbed the Merry Network. He considers the "in-season" as one that runs from September to January.
All-Christmas formats have been a growing trend in radio for several years, said Westover, who is also based in Salt Lake City but has no connection to Bonneville. The format appeals to generally profitable, "mature" listeners in the 30-to-50-year-old range, he says, a far more desirable group, from a demographic perspective, than the adult-contemporary crowd.
Besides, what's wrong with holiday cheer? After all, it's the democratic process, he said.
"Like with everything else, there's a choice involved," Westover said. "If there's a demand, someone's going to fill it."
Susan Skiles Luke is a freelance writer in St. Louis.