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Top 40 (radio format)


Top 40 (radio format)

Contemporary hit radio (also known as CHR, Contemporary Hits, Hit List, Current Hits, Hit Music, Top 40, or Pop Radio) is a radio format that is common in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia that focuses on playing current and recurrent popular music as determined by the Top 40 music charts. There are several subcategories, dominantly focusing on rock, pop, or urban music. Used alone, CHR most often refers to the CHR/pop format. The term Contemporary Hit Radio was coined in the early 1980s by Radio & Records magazine to designate Top 40 stations which continued to play hits from all musical genres as pop music splintered into Adult contemporary, urban contemporary and other formats. The term Top 40 is also used to refer to the actual list of hit songs, and, by extension, to refer to pop music in general. The term has also been modified to describe Top 50; Top 30; Top 20; Top 10; Hot 100 (each with its number of songs) and Hot Hits radio formats, but carrying more or less the same meaning and having the same creative point of origin with Todd Storz as further refined by Gordon McLendon as well as Bill Drake. The format became especially popular in the sixties as radio stations constrained disc jockeys to numbered play lists in the wake of the payola scandal.


Mainstream CHR

Also known as CHR/pop or Teen CHR. Plays pop, and dance, and sometimes urban, alternative, rock, and country crossover as well. Often referred as "Top 40"; in terms of incorporating a variety of genres of music, CHR/Pop is the successor to the original concept of Top 40 radio originated in the 1950s. WHTZ and WNOW in New York City, KIIS and KAMP in Los Angeles, KKHH in Houston, WKSC and WBBM in Chicago, WFLZ in Tampa/St. Petersburg, WHYI in Miami, WNCI in Columbus, WRDZ-FM in Indiana and KDWB in Minneapolis/St. Paul are the best-known CHR/Pop stations in the U.S. See also: Mainstream Top 40 (Pop Songs)

Adult CHR

These stations typically are hybrids of the Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR/pop) and the Hot AC formats. This format contains a strong focus on current chart, contemporary and recurrent hits as well as placing a minority of older, classic hits from the 1980s and 1990s onto the playlist. Some Adult CHR stations may play pop-friendly rhythmic, dance or hip hop titles from artists such as Rihanna, Beyoncé, Pitbull, Flo Rida, Britney Spears, Usher or Ne-Yo while still shying away from hardcore hip hop. Examples in the U.S. may include WKRQ in Cincinnati, WWMX in Baltimore, WKFR-FM in Kalamazoo, MI, KMXV in Kansas City, WWWQ in Atlanta, WZYP in Huntsville, AL, KBMX in Duluth, MN and WHOT-FM in Youngstown, OH. UK media regulator Ofcom states that "where a format requires a contemporary and chart music service, the main diet must be of modern music, reflecting the charts of today and recent months. Older, classic tracks would not be out of place, but only as spice to the main offering."[1] This description can also be classified as mainstream CHR in the UK.

The Adult CHR format is sometimes utilized by stations which are heritage CHR/Top 40 outlets in their respective markets which have been in the format since the 1970s or 1980s or FM successors to former AM Top 40s. See also: Adult Top 40, a US Billboard chart.

Rhythmic CHR

Also known as CHR/rhythmic, CHR/urban, or CHuRban. Focusing on hip-hop and R&B. There are subtle differences between CHR/rhythmic and the urban contemporary format; urban stations will often play R&B and soul songs that CHR/rhythmic stations will not, and CHR/rhythmic stations, despite playlists heavy with urban product, sometimes have white disc jockeys and formatic elements resembling CHR/Pop, which includes R&B or hip-hop influenced pop and/or dance tracks. WWPR in New York, WGCI in Chicago, and KMEL in San Francisco are among the most successful CHR/urban stations in the United States. KYLD in San Francisco, WQHT in New York, and KPWR in Los Angeles are among the most successful CHR/rhythmic stations in the U.S. and among the pioneers of the format.


Playing dance remixes of popular songs with perhaps some current hits from the dance charts. Pure dance-music radio stations (as opposed to CHR/rhythmic and Rhythmic AC formats such as MOViN) are not very common but tend to have loyal audiences in the markets where they do exist. Examples include KDHT in Denver, WPTY on Long Island, NY and KNHC in Seattle.see also: Dance/Mix Show Airplay


Stations with this format are similar in some ways to the Adult CHR and Mainstream CHR/Pop formats, but also incorporate Modern Rock and Modern AC titles in an upbeat presentation. Examples include WIXX in Green Bay, WI, WDJQ in Canton, OH, WNDV-FM in South Bend, IN, KKCK in Marshall, MN, WBWB in Bloomington, IN and WWKF/WAKQ in Union City/Paris, TN.

Other variations

There are also ethnic variations, such as CHR/español (Latin pop), and CHR/Tejano (Tex-Mex and Tejano) which are commonly found in Arizona, Texas, California, and Mexico. In Greater China (People's Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong), there is also Mandopop and Cantopop which are the top 40 variants in that language.


In 2012, early 2013, folk rock music has made its recent debut on the contemporary hit radio/Top 40 radio charts from such artists like "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons and "Ho Hey" by the The Lumineers.

Key contributors

Todd Storz

Credit for the format is widely given to Todd Storz, who was the director of radio station KOWH-AM in Omaha, Nebraska in 1951. At that time typical AM radio programming consisted largely of "block programming" — pre-scheduled, sponsored programs of a wide variety, including radio dramas and variety shows. Local popular music hits, if they made it on the air at all, had to be worked in between these segments. Storz noted the great response certain songs got from the record-buying public and compared it to the way certain selections on jukeboxes were played over and over. He expanded his domain of radio stations, purchasing WTIX-AM in New Orleans, Louisiana, gradually converted his stations to an all-hits format, and pioneered the practice of surveying record stores to determine which singles were popular each week. Storz found that the more people heard a given song on the radio or from the jukebox, the more likely they were to buy a copy; a conclusion not obvious in the industry at the time. In 1952 he purchased what was then WLAF-AM in Lafayette Indiana and constructed WAZY-AM/FM which is still the longest running Top 40 FM in existence to this day. In 1954, Storz purchased WHB-AM, a high-powered station in Kansas City, Missouri which could be heard throughout the Midwest and Great Plains, converted it to an all-hits format, and dubbed the result "Top 40". Shortly thereafter WHB debuted the first top 40 countdown, a reverse-order playing of the station's ranking of hit singles for that week. Within a few years, Top 40 stations appeared all over the country to great success, spurred by the burgeoning popularity of rock and roll music, especially that of Elvis Presley. A 1950's employee at WHB, Ruth Meyer, went on to have tremendous success in the early to mid-60's as program director of New York's premiere top 40 station at that time, WMCA.

Storz Broadcasting Company consisted of six AM radio stations, all featuring Top 40 in the sixties.

Gordon McLendon

Although Todd Storz is regarded as the father of the Top 100 format,[2] Gordon McLendon of Dallas, Texas is regarded as the person who took an idea and turned it into a mass media marketing success in combination with the development in that same city of PAMS jingles. McLendon's successful Mighty 1190 KLIF in Dallas, along with his two other Texas Triangle stations, 610 KILT (AM) Houston and 550 KTSA San Antonio, which went Top 40 during the mid to late 1950s, soon became perhaps the most imitated radio stations in America. With careful attention to programming, McLendon presented his stations as packages to advertisers and listeners alike. It was the combination of Top 40 and PAMS jingles which became the key to the success of the radio format itself. Not only were the same records played on different stations across America, but so were the same jingle music beds whose lyrics were resung repetitively for each station to create individual station identity. To this basic mix were added contests, games and disc jockey patter. Various groups (including Bartell Broadcasters), emphasized local variations on their Top 40 stations.

Gordon McLendon would operate approximately a dozen and a half AM, FM and TV stations at various times, experimenting with formats other than Top 40 (including Beautiful Music and all-news).

Rick Sklar

In the early 1960s Rick Sklar also developed the Top 40 format for radio station WABC in New York City which was then copied by stations in the eastern and mid-western United States such as WKBW and WLS.

Bill Drake

Bill Drake built upon the foundation established by Storz and McLendon to create a variation called Boss Radio. This format began in California in early 1961 at KSTN (Stockton), then in 1962-63 at KYNO (Fresno), in 1964 at KGB (San Diego), and finally to KHJ Los Angeles in May 1965, and was further adapted to stations across the western USA. It was later broadcast by American disc jockeys as a hybrid format on Swinging Radio England which broadcast from on board a ship anchored off the coast of southern England in international waters. At that time there were no commercial radio stations in the UK, and BBC radio offered only sporadic top 40 programming. Other noteworthy North American top 40 stations that used the "Drake" approach included KFRC in San Francisco; CKLW in Windsor, ON; WRKO in Boston; WHBQ in Memphis, TN; WOLF in Syracuse, NY; and WOR-FM in New York City. Most listeners identified Boss Radio with less talk, shorter jingles and more music.

Mike Joseph and Hot Hits

Mike Joseph's "Hot Hits" stations of the late 1970s and early 1980s attempted to revitalize the format by refocusing listeners' attention on current, active "box-office" music. Thus, Hot Hits stations played only current hit songs - no oldies unless they were on current chart albums - in a fast, furious and repetitive fashion, with fast-talking personalities and loud, pounding jingles. In 1977, WTIC-FM in Hartford, CT, dropped its long-running classical format for Joseph's format as "96 Tics" and immediately became one of the top radio stations in the market. The first Joseph station to use the term "Hot Hits" on the air was WFBL ("Fire 14", which played its top 14 hits in very tight rotation) in Syracuse, NY, in 1979. Then WCAU-FM in Philadelphia switched to Hot Hits as "98 Now" in the fall of 1981 and was instantly successful. Other major-market stations which adopted the Hot Hits format in the early 1980s included WBBM-FM Chicago, WHYT (now WDVD) Detroit, WMAR-FM (now WWMX) Baltimore, KITS San Francisco, and WNVZ Norfolk.

Don Pierson

Don Pierson took the formats of Gordon McLendon, Boss Radio and PAMS jingles to the UK in the form of Wonderful Radio London, (a pirate radio ship) and subsequently revolutionized the popular music format. On 14 August 1967 The Marine Offences Act was introduced in the UK and the Pirate Stations were shut down.

The British Broadcasting Corporation were chosen by the UK Government to come up with a Station to replace the Pirates, And so in 1967 BBC Radio 1 started broadcasting having employed many of the DJ's from the Pirate stations (Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everett & John Peel etc.) and obtained re-sings of the PAM's Jingles.

In fact it was Tony Blackburn who played the first Pop record on Radio 1, The Move. Flowers In The Rain.

See also

Countdowns, shows and personalities

Formats and radio stations

North America

United Kingdom

  • BBC Radio 1Xtra
  • Radio Caroline, pirate radio offshore station (1964–present) broadcasting from the North Sea
  • The Capital FM Network, Global Radio's CHR/Pop network of radio stations in the UK.


  • Format in the UK specified by OFCOM - CHR/Pop - Contemporary / Current / Recurrent hits, may contain older music. [1]
  • Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA, by Gilder, Eric. - "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003 ISBN 973-651-596-6
  • Music in the Air: America's Changing Tastes in Popular Music (1920–1980), by Eberley, P.K. New York, 1982.
  • Studying Popular Music, by Middleton, Richard. - Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990/2002. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  • Durkee, Rob. "American Top 40: The Countdown of the Century." Schriner Books, New York City, 1999.
  • Battistini, Pete, "American Top 40 with Casey Kasem The 1970s.", January 31, 2005. ISBN 1-4184-1070-5.
  • Douglas, Susan, "Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination," New York: Times Books, 1999.
  • Fong-Torres, Ben, "The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio", San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 1998.
  • MacFarland, David, "The Development of the Top 40 Radio Format", New York: Arno Press, 1979.
  • Fisher, Mark, "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation", New York: Random House, 2007.
  • Goulart, Elwood F. 'Woody', "The Mystique and Mass Persuasion: Bill Drake & Gene Chenault’s Rock and Roll Radio Programming [2]", 2006.

External links

  • Choice Hits - a weekly music chart charting the week's top songs.
  • The Reel Top 40 Radio Repository - a non profit Internet Museum of this "art form".
  • Rock Radio Scrapbook - Canada's aircheck archive celebrating the Golden Years of North American Top 40 radio".
  • Hot Hits information site
  • Contemporary hit radio at RadioStationWorld
  • Tunecaster Online Pop And Rock Music Encyclopedia - United States music charts and popular artists pages.
  • Puttin' On The Hits - an ebook by former Top 40 Program Director John Long.
  • Boss Radio Forever The History of KHJ Radio, Los Angeles.
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