Radio stations love to give the gift of live music this time of year.
They do it in the form of holiday concerts, offering up star-studded lineups intended to appeal to their listeners. It happens around the country, but it's particularly strong in the Bay Area, where radio station-sponsored holiday events dominate the concert calendar for much of November and December.
The festivities kick off this weekend -- with KBLX's Hot Winter Night, featuring Keith Sweat and other R&B/soul acts, on Saturday at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. It continues through 99.7 (NOW)'s potent Triple Ho Show (Dec. 3 at SAP Center in San Jose), Live 105's two-part alt-rock fiesta Not So Silent Night (Dec. 6-7 at Oracle Arena in Oakland) and other shows scheduled well into mid-December.
Most shows draw capacity crowds with the promise of both big lineups and big savings.
"We want to give our listeners a value that they can't get without the radio station," says "Jazzy" Jim Archer, assistant program director and music director at 99.7 (NOW). "It's really about providing a value and making us relevant -- make 99.7 a part of (listeners') lives during the holiday time, which is important to us."
It's easy to see the value in the Triple Ho Show. Tickets run $37.50 to $138, and for that, fans get to see six acts, including megastars Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias. It would probably cost at least that much to catch either of those acts on a solo headlining tour.
"Radio shows are unique in the way that the promoter and the station combine efforts to secure massive lineups of popular acts that wouldn't normally play together unless they were on a major festival," says Rose Kirkland, a talent buyer for Live Nation, the promoter that works with several radio stations on holiday shows. "The difference is we are able to keep the cost of the ticket low. These shows are really a thank you to the listener for supporting the bands and the station."
It's also a chance for artists to say thank you to the radio stations, which likely have supported their careers. Yet these musicians aren't just doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.
"Nobody is doing it free," Archer says. "The money is first. You got to have an offer that sits within their wheelhouse -- that they'll be comfortable with. The second thing is the relationship that they feel they have with the area (and station)."
Certainly, all the exposure that comes with a radio show doesn't hurt. That's especially true in case of a young artist like Zendaya, who's performing at Triple Ho.
"It's extremely important," says the 17-year-old Oakland native who starred on the Disney Channel series "Shake It Up" for three seasons and is now trying to establish herself as a dance-pop vocalist. "If you're promoting a record, or doing something like that, it's really important that you go around and be in the streets with everyone and do what you have to promote it."
Yet, these shows promote the radio stations themselves at least as much as they do the artists. People tune in to find out about the concerts, or are lured by the chance to win tickets. And social media buzzes with chatter about the lineups. That kind of attention is especially important now that listeners have so many sources of music from which to choose.
"It's paramount for us, as a terrestrial radio medium, to find ways to reinvent what we do," says Aaron Axelsen, Live 105's music director and assistant program director. "We cannot just be in the business of terrestrial radio anymore. That's our foundation, but we need to expand the brand of Live 105."
One key way to do that, Axelsen says, is to create "listener experiences that you can't find anywhere else." That would include Live 105's three major concerts -- the warm-weather BFD, the Halloween-time Spookfest and Not So Silent Night.
"We'll end up drawing more people to our events than any other radio station in America this year," Axelsen claims. "We're going to sell around 70,000 tickets, behind BFD, Spookfest and two nights of Not So Silent Nights."
Not So Silent Night has traditionally been held on one evening, but it's now morphed into a two-night party featuring such heavyweights as Arcade Fire, Lorde, Kings of Leon, Vampire Weekend, Queens of the Stone Age, Phoenix and Alt-J. Axelsen, who organizes the show with the station's VP of programming, Michael Martin, says the move was warranted.
"We are going through another renaissance with alternative music," he says. "The format is hot again. Not So Silent Night is sort of a microcosm of the strength of the music in our format right now. Last year was the first year that we went to two nights -- and here we are, another two-nighter in Oakland. So, we'll have 13,000 music fans (per night) at our Christmas show this year."
One big factor in the growth of holiday radio shows is that it's often easier to book big acts for this time of year.
"In the summer, a lot of these bands play massive festivals -- especially in Europe, (and) they make a lot of money. Even in America, you are up against Outside Lands and Coachella," Axelsen says. "For a holiday show, it's less congested. It gives us more opportunity to flex our muscle and really bring in some behemoths -- the juggernauts -- of the genre."
Still, many holiday show organizers work around the calendar to secure the talent needed for these shows.
"We are already working on next year," Archer says.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.