Top 10 Top 40 and Pop Radio Stations

Radio DJ
Radio DJ. Photo by Marc Romanelli / Blend Images

Radio is an integral part of the top 40 and pop music world. This is a list of 10 of the best radio stations for top 40 and pop music. 

KIIS FM Los Angeles Logo
KIIS FM Los Angeles Logo. Courtesy KIIS FM

KIIS of Los Angeles is probably best known as the radio home of Ryan Seacrest. It is also boasts one of the largest audiences of any pop radio station in the U.S. and frequently hosts major artists as on-air guests.

That station's history dates back to 1948 when it began as KLAC-FM. It mirrored the programming of its AM counterpart until 1967 when a middle of the road format was adopted and the call letters changed to KHRM. The current call letters KIIS were adopted in 1975 with an adult contemporary format. 

Through the years the format continued to evolve until it's current top 40 format was adopted in 1985. Popular nationally syndicated DJ Rick Dees was replaced with Ryan Seacrest in 2004. 

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Z100 New York Logo
Z100 New York Logo. Courtesy Z100

Z100 is the top pop radio station in one of the world's largest radio markets. WHTZ began broadcasting in the early 1940s as WHNF. The station played easy listening music, and, after switching to call letters WMGM, it closed down in 1955. 100.3 on the dial was sold to Sabre Broadcasting and WVNJ signed on in 1961 once again playing easy listening music. Finally, in 1983, with a new set of call letters WHTZ, Z100 was born with popular morning DJ and program director Scott Shannon leading a top 40 format.

In less than three months of signing on, Z100 became the top rated station in the New York radio market. By the early 1990s, the station's fortunes faded once again, but it launched a comeback in the latter part of the decade with popular morning DJ Elvis Duran. Today Z100 is a leader in top 40 radio.

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BBC Radio 1 Logo
BBC Radio 1 Logo. Courtesy BBC

The BBC, the UK's national broadcasting system, launched Radio 1 in 1967 as a direct challenge to the growing popularity of offshore pirate radio stations. Among the most popular of Radio 1's early DJs was John Peel. By the 1970s BBC Radio 1 was considered the most listened to radio station in the world. It became a major player in determining which songs became hits.

BBC Radio 1 continues to be one of the world's top pop radio stations. It broadcasts the weekly UK charts and the current playlist is always of key interest to the music industry.

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B96 Chicago Logo
B96 Chicago Logo. Courtesy B96

WBBM began as a mirror FM station to WBBM-AM in 1941 playing a conservative mix of current music. In 1966 the station debuted what it called "The Young Sound," popular music geared to a younger audience. By 1973 WBBM played top 40 music, but that shifted to soft rock in 1980. By the late 1980s the format shifted again and the station was known as "The Killer Bee" B96. It became a key radio station in the dance music industry. 

In 2008, WBBM adopted its current mainstream top 40 format. B96 holds an annual Summer Bash concert that features current pop artists. The event has been held since 1992.

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Sirius XM Hits 1

Sirius XM Hits 1
Sirius XM Hits 1. Courtesy Sirius XM

Sirius XM is subscription satellite based radio. It was first launched in 2002. The flagship mainstream top 40 station on Sirius XM is Sirius XM Hits 1. Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz hosts a weekly show and a wide variety of pop artists have stopped in as guest hosts. Sirius XM Hits 1 is commercial free radio supported by the paid subscriptions.

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Kiss 108 Logo
Kiss 108 Logo. Courtesy Kiss 108

What became KISS 108 went on the air in 1960 as WHIL FM. For much of the 1960s, the music format was country. In 1972, the station switched to a beautiful music format. With a change to a disco format in 1979 and the WXKS call letters branded as KISS 108, the station suddenly surged to the top of local ratings. With the fading of disco, the station shifted to a rhythmic top 40 formate in 1981. KISS 108 remains one of the leading top 40 hits stations in New England.

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WIHT Hot 99.5 - Washington, DC

Hot 99.5 Logo
Hot 99.5 Logo. Courtesy Hot 99.5

Washington, DC's top mainstream top 40 station began in the 1960s as WGAY. The station played what was referred to as beautiful music, mostly instrumental pop songs, and that evolved to adult contemporary by the 1980s. The station received widespread publicity in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan declared that it was his favorite radio station.

WGAY came to an end in 1999, and it was replaced by WJMO, an urban oldies formatted station. That format lasted only two years and the current mainstream top 40 branded Hot 99.5 on new call letters WIHT debuted in April 2001.

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Power 96.1 - Atlanta

Power 96.1 Logo
Power 96.1 Logo. Courtesy Power 96.1

What became WWPW Power 96.1 was started as WKLS in 1960 with a $25,000 investment. Within ten years, the easy listening station was sold for $750,000. The station shifted to a rock format branded 96 Rock in 1974. It retained that format until 2006 and became Project 9-6-1.

In 2012, 96.1 ended nearly forty years of rock programming in favor of mainstream top 40 and a change to the call letters WWPW. 

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KHKS Logo. Courtesy KHKS

KHKS began as KDNT FM in 1948. The station went through a variety of formats and became KIXK in 1981 shifting to an oldies format in 1982. KTKS was adopted as call letters in 1984 and the station played a mainstream top 40 format for the first time. After a five-year period as a new age station from 1987 to 1992, the station became KISS FM with KHKS call letters in November 1992. KHKS is known as the home station for the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show.

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Q 102 Logo
Q102 Logo. Courtesy Q102

What eventually became Q102 signed on as W53PH in 1942 playing classical music. In 1943, the call letters WFIL were adopted. In 1968, the station switched to an adult contemporary format. In 1971, the call letters became WIOQ. By the mid-1970s the format had shifted again in an album rock direction. In 1988, WIOQ, known as Q102 adopted a top 40 format for the first time. 

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