Top 10 Top 40 and Pop Radio Stations

Radio DJ
Photo by Marc Romanelli / Blend Images

Radio is an integral part of the top 40 and pop music world and has been for ages. This is a list of 10 of the best radio stations for top 40 and pop music. West of the Mississippi, station call letters generally begin with K, and east, they begin with W.

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KIIS: Los Angeles

KIIS FM Los Angeles Logo
Courtesy KIIS FM

KIIS of Los Angeles is probably best known as the radio home of Ryan Seacrest. It also boasts one of the largest audiences of any pop radio station in the United States 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, along with an adult contemporary format. 

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

Listen to the station live.

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Z100: New York

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. Then, 100.3 on the dial was sold to Sabre Broadcasting, and WVNJ signed on in 1961, 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.

Listen to the station live.

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BBC Radio 1

BBC Radio 1 Logo
Courtesy BBC

The BBC, the United Kingdom'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.

Listen to the station live.

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B96: Chicago

B96 Chicago Logo
Courtesy B96

WBBM began as a mirror FM station to WBBM-AM in 1941. At first it just broadcast the same thing on the AM side, playing a conservative mix of current music. As FM became more popular, though, things needed to change. 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 and has been held since 1992.

Listen to the station live.

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Sirius XM Hits 1

Sirius XM Hits 1
Courtesy Sirius XM

Sirius XM is commercial-free subscription-based satellite radio, 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.

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KISS 108: Boston

Kiss 108 Logo
Courtesy Kiss 108

What became KISS 108 first went on the air in 1960 as WHIL-FM, playing automated music over a weak signal. For much of the 1960s, its music format was country. In 1972, the station switched to a beautiful music format, but nothing could dislodge it from the bottom of the ratings. Enter new owners. 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 format in 1981. KISS 108 remains one of the leading top 40 hits stations in New England.

Listen to the station live.

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WIHT Hot 99.5: Washington, D.C.

Hot 99.5 Logo
Courtesy Hot 99.5

Washington, D.C.'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 into 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.

Listen to the station live.

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Power 96.1: Atlanta

Power 96.1 Logo
Courtesy Power 96.1

What became WWPW Power 96.1 was started as WKLS in 1960 (the call letters being initials of the founders) with a $25,000 investment. Within 10 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 40 years of rock programming in favor of mainstream top 40 and a change to the call letters WWPW. 

Listen to the station live.

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KHKS 106.1: Dallas/Fort Worth

Courtesy KHKS

KHKS began as KDNT-FM in 1948. It went through a variety of formats and became KIXK in 1981, shifting to an oldies format in 1982. KTKS were 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 branded as KISS-FM with KHKS call letters in November 1992. KHKS is known as the home station for the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show. The station counts Texas Radio Hall of Fame members as alumni.

Listen to the station live.

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Q102: Philadelphia

Q 102 Logo
Courtesy Q102

What eventually became Philly's Q102 signed on as W53PH in 1942 playing classical music. In 1943, the call letters WFIL were adopted, and it was the city's first commercial FM station. It was silent for a few periods during World War II but resumed broadcasting full time in 1946. 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. It sponsors events, concerts, and the annual Jingle Ball.

Listen to the station live.