Radio format

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A radio format or programming format (not to be confused with broadcast programming) describes the overall content broadcast on a radio station. [1] The radio format emerged mainly in the United States in the 1950s, at a time when radio was compelled to develop new and exclusive ways to programming by competition with television. [2] Since then, the formula has spread as a reference for commercial radio programming worldwide. [1]


A radio format aims to reach a more or less specific audience according to a certain type of programming, which can be thematic or general, more informative or more musical, among other possibilities. [nb 1] Radio formats are often used as a marketing tool and are subject to frequent changes. [3]

Except News/Talk, All-Talk or Sports formats, most programming formats are based on commercial music. [1] However the term also includes the news, bulletins, DJ talk, jingles, commercials, competitions, traffic news, sports, weather and community announcements between the tracks. [1]

Throughout its historical development, the American radio industry has changed its formats not only to contend against the newer and more competitive forms of entertainment media – such as television –, as well to pleasure the contemporary tastes of the American audience and earn profits by meeting the entertainment demands more sufficiently to the benefit of all parties affected. [4] Indeed, the same phenomena has happened in other parts of the world.


Even before World War II, radio stations in North America and Europe almost always adopted a generalist radio format.

However, the United States witnessed the growing strengthening of television over the radio as the major mass media in the country by the late 1940s. [2] American television had more financial resources to produce generalist programs that provoked the migration of countless talents radio networks to the new medium. Under this context, the radio was pressured to seek alternatives to maintain its audience and cultural relevance. [2]

As a consequence, AM radios stations began to emerge in the United States and Canada – many of which "independents", that is not affiliated with the network – developed a format which targeted audiences with programming consisted of music, news, charismatic disc jockeys to directly attract a certain audience. [2]

For example by the 1960s, the Easy listening obtained a stable position on FM radio – a spectrum considered ideal for good music and high fidelity listening as it grew in popularity during that period [nb 2] – and the Middle of the road (MOR) rose as a radio industry term to discern radio stations that played mainstream pop songs from radio stations whose programming was geared towards teenagers and was dominated by rock and roll, [5] the most popular musical genre of the period in the United States and which held the first successful radio format called Top-40. In reality, the Top-40 format was conscientiously prepared to attract the young audience, who was the main consumer of the records sold by the American record industry at that time. [2] Soon, playlists became central to programming and radio formats, [6] although the number of records in a playlist really depends on the format. [nb 3]

By the mid-1960s, American FM radio's penetration began achieving balance with AM radio since the Federal Communications Commission required that co-owned AM and FM stations be programmed independently from each other. [2] This resulted in huge competition between radio stations in the AM and FM spectrum to differentiate themselves for both audiences and advertisers. [5] At that time, it proliferated many radio formats, which included presentation, schedule and target audience, as well as repertoire. [5] Within a few years, FM radio stations were supplying program formats completely analogous to their AM stations counterparts, increased to more than 50% in 1970 and reached 95% in 1980. [5]

During the 1970s and 1980s, radio programming formats expand into commercially successful variations, for example, Adult contemporary (AC), Album-oriented rock (AOR) and Urban contemporary (UC), among others, which spread to most AM and FM radio stations in the United States. [2]

Over time, FM radio came to dominate music programming, while AM radio switched to news and talk formats. [4]


In some countries such as the UK, licences to broadcast on radio frequencies are regulated by the government, and may take account of social and cultural factors including format type, local content, and language, as well as the price available to pay for the spectrum use. This may be done to ensure a balance of available public content in each area, and in particular to enable non-profit local community radio to exist alongside larger and richer national companies. On occasions format regulation may lead to difficult legal challenges when government accuses a station of changing its format, for example arguing in court over whether a particular song or group of songs is "pop" or "rock".[ citation needed ]

List of formats

United States and Canada

Formats constantly evolve and each format can often be sub-divided into many specialty formats. Some of the following formats are available only regionally or through specialized venues such as satellite radio or Internet radio. [7]

Pop/Adult Contemporary
Easy Listening/New Age

Seasonal formats typically celebrate a particular holiday and thus, with the notable exception of Christmas music (which is usually played throughout Advent), stations going to a holiday-themed format usually only do so for a short time, typically a day or a weekend.

Spoken word formats

See also


  1. Music radio, old time radio, all-news radio, sports radio, talk radio and weather radio describe the operation of different genres of radio format and each format can often be sub-divided into many specialty formats.
  2. At that time, there were several American FM stations that belonged to owners of AM stations, so the programming of the AM station was broadcast simultaneously with the station FM. Owners who programmed FM stations independently often did so using avant garde, underground, jazz or highbrow (generally, classical music) program formats as a form to attract the few listeners who owned FM receivers and who were specific about signal quality they heard. [2]
  3. The figure 40 was established by Todd Storz and Bill Stewart n their station KOWH-AM in Omaha, Nebraska, inspired by the fact that there were 40 records in a bar jukebox. In the 1960s, some radio formats reduced the figure to 30 records, or even just 10. [6]

Related Research Articles

Music radio is a radio format in which music is the main broadcast content. After television replaced old time radio's dramatic content, music formats became dominant in many countries. Radio drama and comedy continue, often on public radio.

WBZY – branded Z105.7 – is a commercial radio station licensed to Canton, Georgia, broadcasting a Spanish CHR format. Owned by iHeartMedia, WBZY serves the Atlanta metropolitan area. The WBZY studios are located in Atlanta, while the station transmitter resides in the nearby suburb of Marietta. Besides a standard analog transmission, WBZY broadcasts over three HD Radio channels, and is available online via iHeartRadio. WBZY also repeats over the 32.25 digital subchannel of Atlanta television station WANN-CD and on sister station WBZW.

Contemporary hit radio is a radio format that is common in many countries 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.

Classic hits is a radio format which generally includes songs from the top 40 music charts from the mid-1970s to the 2000s, with music from the 1980s serving as the core of the format. Music that was popularized by MTV in the early 1980s and the nostalgia behind it is a major driver to the format. It is considered the successor to the oldies format, a collection of top 40 songs from the late 1950s through the late 1970s that was once extremely popular in the United States. The term is sometimes incorrectly used as a synonym for the adult hits format, which uses a slightly newer music library stretching from all decades to the present with a major focus on 1990s and 2000s rock and alternative songs. In addition, adult hits stations tend to have larger playlists, playing a given song only a few times per week, compared to the tighter libraries on classic hits stations. For example, KRTH, a classic hits station in Los Angeles, and KLUV, a classic hits station in Dallas, both play power songs up to 30 times a week, which is another differentiator compared to other formats that share songs with classic hits libraries.

WDRQ is a radio station licensed to Detroit, Michigan. Owned by Cumulus Media, it broadcasts a country music format. Its studios are located in the Fisher Building in New Center, while its transmitter is located at the intersection of 10 Mile and Greenfield Road in suburban Oak Park.

Urban adult contemporary, also known as adult R&B, is the name for a format of radio music, similar to an urban contemporary format. Radio stations using this format usually would not have hip hop music on their playlists, and generally include some mix of contemporary R&B and traditional R&B.

WDVD Radio station in Detroit, Michigan

WDVD is a hot adult contemporary radio station in Detroit, Michigan, broadcasting at 96.3 MHz on the FM dial. Owned and operated by Cumulus Media, WDVD's studios and offices are located in the Fisher Building in Detroit's New Center district near downtown, while its transmitter is located in Oakland County in Royal Oak Township at 8 Mile Road and Wyoming Avenue.

WBEN-FM is a commercial FM radio station licensed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The station is owned by Beasley Broadcast Group and broadcasts an adult hits radio format. The studios and offices are in Bala Cynwyd and the broadcast tower is on Wigard Avenue in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia at.

CIDR-FM Radio station in Windsor, Ontario

CIDR-FM is a commercial Canadian radio station in Windsor, Ontario, targeting the Detroit–Windsor radio market. It is owned and operated by Bell Media and airs a top 40 / contemporary hit radio format. The studios and offices are located on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor.

WERQ-FM is a commercial radio station in Baltimore, Maryland. It features a Mainstream Urban radio format and is owned by Radio One of Lanham, Maryland, the largest broadcasting company serving African American audiences in the United States. The studios are located in Woodlawn.

WZMX Radio station in Hartford, Connecticut

WZMX, better known as "Hot 93.7" is an urban-leaning Rhythmic Contemporary station licensed to Hartford, Connecticut, in the United States. The Audacy, Inc.-owned outlet transmits on 93.7 megahertz. The station's current slogan is "Hartford's #1 for Hip-Hop and R&B". Its transmitter is located in Meriden, Connecticut, and it has studios are located on Executive Drive in Farmington, Connecticut with other radio stations.

Rhythmic adult contemporary is an adult contemporary radio format. The format focuses primarily on rhythmic hits aimed towards an adult audience, often resembling a mixture of the classic hits and hot adult contemporary formats in practice. It typically focuses on genres such as disco, classic hip-hop, dance pop, and house music of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

KLIF-FM is a commercial radio station licensed to Haltom City, Texas, and serving the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The station is owned by Cumulus Media, and the broadcast license is held by Radio License Holding SRC LLC. It broadcasts a Top 40 (CHR) radio format. The studios and offices are in the Victory Park district in Dallas just north of downtown.

Rhythmic oldies is a radio format that concentrates on the rhythmic, R&B, disco, or dance genres of music. Playlists can span from the 1960s through the 2000s and, depending on market conditions, may be designed for African-American or Hispanic audiences. It is also referred to as "Jammin' Oldies" or "Music From Back in the Day" by various radio stations. Since the late 2000s, much of the library in the "rhythmic oldies" format has been adopted by the classic hits format. A variation on the format is urban oldies.

This is a list of media in Lexington, Kentucky, United States.

The year 2001 in radio involved some significant events.

The year 1993 in radio involved some significant events.

Adult contemporary music Radio format and music genre

In North American music, adult contemporary music (AC) is a form of radio-played popular music, ranging from 1960s vocal and 1970s soft rock music to predominantly ballad-heavy music of the present day, with varying degrees of easy listening, pop, soul, R&B, quiet storm, and rock influence. Adult contemporary is generally a continuation of the easy listening and soft rock style that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with some adjustments that reflect the evolution of pop/rock music.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Shepherd, John; Horn, David; Laing, Dave, eds. (2003). "Programming". Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. p. 499. ISBN   9781501329234.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Margaret A., ed. (2013). "Radio Entretainment". History of the Mass Media in the United States: An Encyclopedia. p. 564. ISBN   9781135917494.
  3. "What is a radio format?" Archived 2010-01-02 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  4. 1 2 Beisbier, Paul F Frank, ed. (2019). The Value of History: Values and Beliefs. ISBN   9781645446378.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "7.3 Radio Station Formats". The University of Minnesota Libraries. 1 May 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  6. Shepherd, John; Horn, David; Laing, Dave, eds. (2003). "Playlist". Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. p. 499. ISBN   9781501329234.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 "New York Radio Guide: Radio Format Guide",, 2009-01-12, webpage: NYRadio-formats.