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Friday, December 11, 2009

Free Christmas music: The best holiday radio stations online

While I'm not a very religious person, I'm a sucker for Christmas.
And to help get myself in the Christmas mood, I like to fill the house with Christmas music in the weeks leading up to the big event.
The problem: My holiday CD collection basically consists of one album: A Charlie Brown Christmas. And while I love Vince Guaraldi's tinkling piano, even I get sick of it after a couple of days.
Which is why, starting last year, I started relying more and more on Internet radio stations for my Christmas fix.
I've got a cool little app for my iPod touch -- called Wunder Radio -- that lets you tune in to thousands of free Internet radio stations over WiFi. But you can also easily get just about any Internet radio station through iTunes or your web browser.
The only problem is figuring out which station to listen to.
There are literally hundreds of stations in the "Christmas" genre. Most of the stations play all kinds of Christmas music.
But if you're like me, there are certain types of music you like and certain kinds you don't. So while you might enjoy Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, listening to some country crooner or hip-hop rapper singing a Christmas song might make your ears bleed.
And if any sort of Christmas music will do, there's not much point in relying on Internet radio anyways. In most major markets, you can count on the lowest-rated radio station in your area switching to a Christmas-only format right around now.
In contrast, if you look hard enough, you can find an Internet radio station that caters almost exactly to your tastes. I made a list of my favourite Christmas Internet radio stations last year. After listening to some new stations, and some of the ones I recommended last year, here are my updated recommendations, both for individual stations and networks of holiday-themsanta-headphones-1ed Charlie Brown Christmasstations. These are more or less in my own order of preference:

Yahoo Radio: I'd say Yahoo's holiday offerings are the hands-down winner this year. The site offers 14 different holiday stations, ranging from pop music to classical, with limited commercial breaks. My favourite station is Yahoo MusicTraditional Christmas, which plays mainly the old-time Christmas standards I enjoy most. Though for a laugh, there's also "Scrooge Tunes", whose playlist is exclusively songs about hating the holidays (the one time I tuned in, it was playing a song called "F*&% Christmas"). A warning, though, about Yahoo's "Kidz Holiday" station: It seems designed more for tweens than young children. Both times I tuned in to it, it was playing a song by Hilary Duff. Yahoo's radio stations are available both through Yahoo's website and Internet radio apps like Wunder Radio (where the stations are sometimes listed with a Y!). If you're listening to Yahoo Radio in your browser (rather than through an app like WunderRadio) you can also skip the songs you don't like. (AOL Radio, which, like Yahoo, is "powered by CBS Radio", has a nearly identical setup and interface. I can't tell if the stations are exactly the same, though.)

AccuHolidays: As far as I can tell, Accu Radio's long list of holiday-themed stations can't be accessed through third-party Internet radio applications like WunderRadio. That's a dealbreaker for me, as I much prefer the sound of music through my iPod speakers than my tinny (non-Mac) PC speakers. That said, if you listen to Internet radio primarily through your web browser, AccuHolidays has a fair bit to recommend it. First, there's nearly 40 different AccuHolidaysholiday-themed stations in all -- everything from Country Christmas to Reggae Christmas. The utility of some of these stations is a bit questionable, mind you, including a number of stations that play nothing but different covers of the exact same song. "Let it Snow" is probably my favourite all-time Christmas song. But even I can't imagine listening to AccuRadio's "Let it Snow! Snow! Snow!" channel without going slowly insane. If none of AccuHolidays' stations are exactly what you want, the site also has a "Build your own mix" feature that lets you mix as many of them up as you like -- so you could have a bit of R&B, a bit of rock and a bit of smooth jazz. And unlike most other holiday "kids" stations, which cater mainly to the tween set, AccuRadio's kids channel actually has a lot of stuff for smaller children, like theme songs from classic TV Christmas shows like Frosty the Snowman. And like Yahoo radio, AccuHolidays lets you skip the songs you don't like.
Classic Holiday Radio and Christmas Channel : These two British stations are both reliably decent. Both have an emphasis on the Christmas classics, with little to no modern pop.
RadioIO Christmas Traditions: RadioIO is a pretty big network of Internet radio stations, though it only has three Christmas stations: Today's Christmas, Country Christmas and Christmas Traditions. But it's Christmas Traditions station, the few times I've listened to it, is pretty decent and with relatively few ads. : This online operation -- and its 18 different Christmas stations -- topped my list last year.The main reason I'm not rating it as highly this time is that, in trying to listen to it on my iPod over the past few days, I've found its stations very unreliable. Far more than Yahoo's channels, these ones will often cut-out mid song and I'll have to reload the station to get it going again. Having to get up every few minutes to fiddle with my iPod isn't my idea of a relaxing Christmas. So I doubt I'll be listening to these stations as much as I did last year. That said,'s Christmas Classics, Christmas Standards and Christmas Swing stations are all pretty heavy on the old-time favourites and light on anything too saccharine. The other main warning about these stations also still applies: With such narrow specialties, if you listen long enough, you're going to start hearing the same songs repeated. (UPDATE: Since writing this post, I've been listening to some more and the dropped music seems to be much less of a problem than before.'s stations also have far fewer ads than the Yahoo stations. I can sometimes listen for an hour or more without a single ad.)
Christmas 24/7: This station also made my list last year, but I don't listen to it much anymore. The station appears to be run by a guy off listener donations, which is admirable. But the last time I tried listening to it, I got an "audio error message" from the station's host company, Live 365, that the station had already reached its maximum number of free listeners. With so many other great, free Christmas stations out there, I can't be bothered listening to one that won't reliably work.
What about you? Do you have a favourite Christmas radio station I haven't listed here? Post a comment and let me know. Thanks and Merry Christmas!

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