Radio: Don’t Get Burned By Playing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

By | November 13, 2017

This story actually starts about a year ago, when I was monitoring one of my radio station clients that had started playing Christmas music full-time. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the station was playing in my office. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Idina Menzel and Michael Buble came up just as my wife walked into the room. About 45 seconds into the song, she said: “that song sounds rapey, I don’t like it anymore”. Being a consultant, my immediate response was: “but it tests great and Buble is a core artist”. She told me I had no soul and left the room.

I do trust her opinion, so I listened to the song again. While I don’t think “rapey” is an actual word (although you can find it in the Urban Dictionary), I got what she meant. It is a little creepy if you think about it in present-day terms, not the way it was intended to be thought of when the Oscar-winning song was written in 1944. I kept the song on my Christmas clients but pulled it off the wall-to-wall Christmas music played on the actual holiday. I didn’t think it would sound right coming up next to “Silent Night“.

Fast forward to today. We’ve got story after story of men behaving badly, which I hope IBaby It's Cold Outside Record don’t need to repeat here, and it’s safe to say “rapey” behavior just isn’t tolerated anymore. It should never have been tolerated, but it was and that’s a different blog post. This blog post is about how a radio station needs to be careful when choosing every song it plays, and that goes for Christmas songs as well. Just because it was OK to play a song in 1946, when the pictured record was released, or last year doesn’t mean it’s OK today. Remember after 9/11 how we “rested” songs like “It’s The End Of The World” by R.E.M. because we didn’t want to upset listeners or seem crass? This is the same kind of thing. What you don’t play can’t hurt you, and it’s time to pull a song that, to some, seems wildly inappropriate in 2017 from your Christmas rotation.

What you don’t play can’t hurt you

Baby It's Cold Outside Lyrics

Sheet Music Direct

Just look at the lyrics to the song. Think about what they say. Sure, it was cute 73 years ago to have a song like that, and this song has been recorded by some of music’s biggest stars. But that was then and this is now. The world changes, and it’s kind of ironic that the subject of a Christmas song could lead to listeners, especially women, being uncomfortable or complaining to the station. I don’t care if the tune is on your “safe list” or the music logs generated at Corporate that you have to use. Why would you open your station up to negative feelings or comments when all you have to do is drop one song? According to Mediabase, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” played 25,488 times on American radio during last year’s Christmas season. If the same level of airplay occurs this year, that’s 25,488 times you might upset a listener, get them talking bad to their friends about your station’s insensitivity, and risk losing them during and after Christmas music. YES, you could lose them as a listener over a song when it could strike as close to home as all the stories in the news about men behaving badly do. Why in the world would you want to do that?

There is no shortage of stories debating the need to play this song in the 21st Century. Vanity Fair did a long piece on the song and its merits or lack thereof in 2016 and the Washington Post looked at the issue (paywall) in 2014. A Google search will bring up over a dozen stories from all viewpoints, pretty much from the song is just a fun romp to it’s the work of Satan. This is not a new issue, and it seems more relevant when filtered through the recent wave of stories about the unacceptable behavior of some of the rich and famous.

If you know me, you know I’m no prude. But you also know I obsess over every single thing my stations, those I’ve programmed and those I consult now, do on and off the air. The way I see it, this is a case where you’d be better safe than sorry by dropping one song from your playlist.

Any thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

  • Jon Hall

    It’s funny: when listening to this song last year the part where he puts something in his dates drink made me a little uneasy. I guess that since it is such a Christmas standard that that is where it stopped with me and perhaps most people. Were it not for that line, the rest would simply be an attempt at persuasion and nothing worse. I think that you may have convinced me to drop it on our little LPFM, WREN in Charlottesville, VA. which a place that has already had a lot of trauma this year (granted of a much worse sort that this song).

    • Mark Bohach

      The implication of the drink is subtle and doesn’t necessarily mean that he put anything illegal in it. But the innuendo of the entire song is obvious- guy wants lady to spend the night.

      • Jon Hall

        I’m pretty sure that he shouldn’t have put anything in it! With that line eliminated, the song is OK but it is there. That is what may well make it ‘rapey’.

  • Dan Hughes

    The song Baby It’s Cold Outside was written for the 1949 movie Neptune’s Daughter.
    And in one scene in that movie, the female (Betty Garrett) is the aggressor, not the male (Red Skelton)!
    Would you be alright with airing this version?

    • I’ve seen that version, as well as one with Lady Gaga as the “wolf” and a guy (sorry, I don’t remember who) as the “mouse”. It’s a tough call, but as a programmer, I’d probably pass on any version. That’s because I want to protect my station. As an individual, I know to take ANY version of the song in the historical context of the world being a very different place 73 years ago.

      Just to be clear, the blog post is about how to program a radio station, not what any individual (including me) chooses to listen to. What I have in my personal Christmas playlist is someshat different than what I’m recommending to my clients for their radio stations.

    • Jon Hall

      This is a comedy sketch, of course. It also does NOT have the ‘spiked’ drink line in the song just the offer of a drink! They thought to edit that out even back then.

  • Vinny Marino

    Really Mark? It’s a classic, written in another time. Don’t over analyze it. But, why play Buble when Ray Charles & Betty Carter nailed it?