Holly, Jolly, Maddening Music

We know, we know ... it's a lot of fun to deck the halls with boughs of holly. 'Tis the season to be jolly. Got it.

Holiday music has become society's soundtrack earlier than ever. It's only the second week of December, and it's being pumped nonstop into malls, blasted from speakers in restaurants and played on the radio. In fact, many radio stations switched from their normal programming to 24-hour Christmas jingles as early as Thanksgiving week.

While radio execs say public demand has fueled the merry music marathon, all those lyrical tributes to Frosty, Rudolph and Santa (he's coming to town, in case you haven't heard) have brought out the Scrooge in some people.

Even several Penn State University students in New York to perform in the "Tuba Christmas" holiday music festival at Rockefeller Center (search) say they've had enough already.

"Right after Thanksgiving every station started playing Christmas music all the time," said 18-year-old Amanda Jones of Larksville, Pa. "I really like Christmas music, but by like the third day after Thanksgiving I was like 'Somebody please shut it off.'"

Starting the music early is a tease, said Sharon Bullard, 18. "Christmas music starts earlier, so you feel like Christmas should come sooner, but it's just a longer wait."

And Bullard isn't just hearing things. Across the country, more than two-dozen FM music stations abandoned their regular programming in November in favor of an all-Christmas-music format, and in early December some 200 to 300 more stations were expected to follow suit.

The tune turnover is fairly recent — only two years ago it was unorthodox for DJs to start spinning all-day holiday music more than a couple days before Christmas. But hundreds of stations are going all-jingle now because it brings in the green and gives them the gift of higher ratings.

"It has been a proven home run in market after market," Brian Check, a regional vice president of programming for Clear Channel Communications (search) at WSNI-FM in Philadelphia, told the Associated Press.

"Maybe it's the mood of the country. Maybe after 9/11, and with the war, people want an early pick-me-up, I'm not sure," he said. "But audience demand is what's driving this."

Ben and Nan Smith, who were recently in New York City admiring the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, are among those who think more holiday music makes the season merrier.

"Once a year if they saturate a month with music of a particular type that's good," said Ben Smith, 78, of Naugatuck, Conn. "I just like it, maybe I was brought up with it."

Nan Smith, 76, loves a solid month of carols and said the sound "gives you a good feeling...It's all happy, uplifting music."

But not everybody is whistling a happy tune to songs like "Silent Night." Nancy Esbensen, of Havertown, Pa., even went so far as to post a protest petition on the Internet after two Philadelphia stations made the switch to holiday tunes, and so far nearly 600 people have signed it.

"This is ridiculous — what's next, playing Christmas songs at Easter?" wrote one cyber signer.

"What if you're Jewish? I don't hear any Hanukkah music!" a signer named Mary wrote.

And it's not just the continuous loop of holiday songs that bothers some listeners; the endless remakes by pop stars like Mariah Carey and Destiny's Child are souring the celebratory sweetness.

"I think it's becoming more modern and I don't really care for that too much," said Kathryn Williams, 19. "There are pop versions of everything and I think they've ruined a lot of the Christmas songs. I switch it off. I prefer the traditional carols."

Remakes turn Smith off as well. "Being an older man myself, I like the older versions."

Whatever version radio stations broadcast, Williams, who plays with the Penn State Blue Band (search), said all the programming in the world can't replace hearing music live.

"Christmas is such a happy holiday and you're supposed to go out and see carolers and listen to live music," she said. "You're not supposed to hear it on the radio 24-7."