The best radio stations for music in the UK: Your complete guide
Music has always been a crucial component of radio history.
Ever since pirate stations took to the seas to broadcast artists unapproved by the government, we’ve turned to radio to listen to our favourite bands, and discover new ones.
Even in an age where streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are running rampant, radio still stands out as the preferred choice for discovering new sounds.
Here at Radio Fidelity, we’ve always loved radio for its ability to connect the world to unique experiences. That’s something that hasn’t changed, even in more than a century.
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend your afternoon, or you just want something different to listen to in the office, you may be on the hunt for a new top music radio station.
Since there are so many options out there to choose from, we’re going to save you some time by listing the best radio stations for music in the UK.
Let’s get started.
The best music radio stations in the UK for top hits
If your idea of a great jamming session is listening to the country’s favourite hits, you have plenty of options. Groups from the BBC to Kiss FM have entire shows dedicated to listing some of the most popular tunes in multiple genres.
Here are some options for the best music radio station for the top 40 hits.
1. Kiss FM
Kiss FM started life as a pirate radio station – but that didn’t last long. In 1985, the brand went through a massive update – one that not everyone agreed with. Following the change, the station became legal. Today, Kiss FM belongs to Bauer Radio.
There are 5.2 million listeners tuning into Kiss FM across London, and East Anglia. While the channel used to be popular for urban and hip-hop music, that’s not the case these days. Kiss FM plays a wide variety of different music genres, including top hits.
Launching back in the early days of radio, Capital FM delivers some of the country’s favourite shows. Owned by the Global Group for radio, the channel offers both DAB and FM stations, with locations spread throughout the UK.
Although the appeal of Capital FM is dropping, it still has around 8.2 million listeners throughout the country.
Capital FM plays a wide selection of music, including golden oldies and record hits. You can tune into various famous presenters and check out tons of new music here.
Frequency: 95-108 MHz (FM).
3. BBC Radio 1
If you’re looking for top music hits and excellent talk shows, you can’t go wrong with the BBC. Radio 1 from the BBC started its broadcast in 1967, and it’s been going strong ever since. The station plays top hits all through the day.
There are also a few programs dedicated to discovering sounds from different genres later in the evening.
BBC 1 has an impressive number of listeners (over 9 million). That makes this channel one of the most popular stations in the UK.
Frequency: 97.1, 97.7-99.8 MHz (FM)
Another of the top music radio stations belonging to Global, Heart launched in 1994, making it a bit younger than some other stations here. The company has more than 20 stations spread across the UK, with 3 of those stations franchised.
Although Heart once had a reputation for softer sounds, it plays plenty of contemporary and trending songs today.
Along with musical hits, Heart is also a great channel to visit for news bulletins and sponsored mentions of leading brands. You’ll find plenty of celebs hosting on this channel too, like Amanda Holden and Emma Bunton.
Frequency: 88-108 MHz (FM).
5. BBC Radio 2
BBC Radio 2 is the most popular top music radio station in the UK today. It started life at the same time as BBC Radio 1 and 4. However, this channel earns around 15 million visitors a week. You can check out news and music on this channel, plus there’s a DAB version too.
Because BBC Radio 2 gets its funding from the TV license, you don’t get overwhelmed with advertisements on this channel. That means you can enjoy all of the latest tracks without disruption. BBC Radio 2 is home to plenty of talk shows and competitions too.
6. Absolute Radio
If you’re looking to listen to some top hits, but you don’t want repetitive music, Absolute helps to shake things up a bit. The channel doesn’t just play the latest chart-toppers. Absolute also combines modern songs with a lot of older tracks too.
The only downside of Absolute Radio is that it’s not big on talk shows. If you like to mix up your music with a little bit of banter, you might be out of luck. The good news is that if you’re just looking to soak up some tunes, Absolute has you covered.
7. Capital Xtra
Capital Xtra is a very upbeat and energetic station that comes from the same people responsible for Capital. This is one of the best radio stations for music in the UK if you’re looking for nothing but constant tunes. There’s a lot of different genres of music here, including rap.
Similar to Absolute Radio, Capital doesn’t offer a lot of talk options, because there aren’t any dedicated presenters to constantly dole out shows. That could be a good thing if you just want background music at work.
If you’re tired of listening to the same tracks, there are plenty of top music radio stations out there that will introduce you to something new.
Here are just some of our top choices:
1. BBC Radio 6
BBC Radio 6, otherwise known as Radio 6 Music, was facing a shut-down back in 2010. Although the company only launched in 2002, it just wasn’t getting enough attention.
However, the group’s cult following, and support from a vast selection of iconic musicians got this station up and running again. Today, it’s one of the most popular digital radio stations around.
BBC Radio 6 Music is an online station that showcases a lot of exciting new bands, as well as some old top hits. Alongside a fantastic mixture of musical experiences, the station also welcomes lots of guest hosts and live performances too.
2. Worldwide FM
Worldwide FM might not be a dedicated UK station, but it is one of the more popular ways to listen to new music in the UK. This global station has an HQ in London and branches all across the globe.
Founded by the electronic DJ, Giles Peterson, you can rest assured that this channel will introduce you to all kinds of music.
You can discover new sounds from around the world, along with interesting stories too. If you like the idea of tuning into underground music and unique programs, then this is the channel for you.
The station also has a list of global ambassadors that can “take over” the channel at times.
3. Amazing Radio
Amazing Radio is based in Newcastle, towards the North East of the UK. This is one of the best radio stations for music in the UK because it focuses on pushing attention to new artists in the UK.
The company constantly shines the spotlight on some of the up and coming bands from across the country. The playlist includes tracks from tons of emerging artists in the alternative music scene.
The Amazing Radio team is also happy to support any solo artist or unsigned band too. Anyone can submit music to the channel and request to have it played on air.
What’s the top music radio station for classics?
Sometimes, it’s not new tunes that drive you to your radio set. We all have a sense of nostalgia for some of the amazing classics that we grew up with. This could include something from Beethoven, or just a rock-and-roll anthem that you used to love.
Here are some of the best places to tune into amazing “classic” tunes:
1. Classic FM
Starting with the most obvious choice, Classic FM is the go-to station for some of the world’s most popular classical music. There are no other genres on this channel, so you might as well avoid it if you’re looking for pop or rock.
Classic FM has lost a few listeners over the years as younger generations search for more new music on the airwaves. However, there are still 5 million people tuning in to Classic FM on a regular basis.
If you want music that’s sure to soothe your soul, this is the place for it.
Frequency: 99.9-101.9 MHz
2. Smooth Radio
Smooth Radio is more about massive hits than classical tunes. However, the channel frequently plays music from throughout the decades, so you know you’re going to get a selection of fantastic tunes to listen to.
There are 24 stations offering access to Smooth around the UK, which makes it a very wide-spread channel in the country.
If you’re looking for classic tunes and relaxing music, Smooth Radio has you covered. Plus, there are some fantastic drive-time shows, and talk shows available if you want a break from the music too.
Frequency: 97 MHz-108 MHz
3. Magic FM
Magic FM isn’t the most popular station for classic tracks, but it’s still one of the top contenders in the UK. This station supports around 4 million listeners, and the number of fans continues to grow.
One of the downsides of Magic, however, is that it has more of a presence in the North of England than anywhere else. There’s only one hub for the station in London.
Magic is one of the younger stations on the airwaves today, only starting in 1990. However, it’s a great place to visit for classic tunes and top hits from across the decades. If you want one of the best music radio stations for variety, this is it.
Frequency: 105.4 FM.
Top music radio stations in the UK online
The rise of digital technology means you don’t have to stick to searching for the best UK music radio stations on FM and AM frequencies. Instead, users can tune into their favourite channels on their smartphone or computer, too, just by plugging in an URL.
With internet radio now easier to access than ever before, there’s no limit to what you can find online. Some of the top music radio stations on the web today include:
1. NTS Radio
Based in London, NTS Radio came from Boiler Room co-creator Femi Adeyemi. This channel is excellent for anyone in search of diversity.
You’ll find a wide selection of pre-recorded and live music here. Plus, there are sounds from virtually every genre, so you’re not going to get bored.
One interesting thing about NTS radio is that it has more than 200 regular hosts. You can explore sessions with a collection of amazing personalities from all across London.
2. Radio Tunes
Radio Tunes used to be Sky.FM, but later changed its name. This channel isn’t just a place to listen to one radio station. Instead, you can check out countless mini platforms in one.
Radio Tunes includes streams for everything from classic rock, to dance music, and 80s top hits. Listening to the music is free, but you will have to handle a few ad breaks.
Another bonus of Radio Tunes is that you can download apps onto your smartphone. This makes it easier to listen to your favourite songs wherever you are. Just be careful that you don’t use up too much of your data.
3. Beats 1
Did you know that Apple had its own global radio station? Well now you do. Here, you can listen to all the hottest songs from the latest new acts around the world. There’s no limit to what you can find on this station, including brand-new bands and singers.
A huge bonus of Apple’s Beats 1 channel is that it frequently features sessions from leading artists, along with some popular recurring presenters.
Best UK music radio stations (independent)
Still, craving some more of the best music radio stations the UK has to offer?
No problem. There are plenty of alternative ways to listen out there. The UK has a massive scene for independent radio stations.
Wherever you’re located across the country, you’ll be able to find a handful of local stations in your area, complete with their own music collections to share.
There’s a good chance you already have one of your favourite local stations in mind. However, to give you a little more inspiration, here are some of the top music radio stations in the independent category:
Trickstar is the premier underground radio station for Brighton. Known across the country as a fantastic platform for record labels and producers, huge names have appeared here over the years.
Trickstar is most influential among its local community. This environment provides a hub where music lovers can share their craft and passions. You can learn more here.
2. Mode FM
Based in North London, Mode is one of the best music radio stations in the Capital. This channel acts as a home to a variety of budding DJs. What’s more, you’ll find plenty of different styles of music on this channel, ranging from Techno to grime.
Mode has the urban scene locked down from a radio perspective. The Nightshift show by Spooky is one of the more popular on the channel.
3. Unity Radio
Unity started life as a pirate radio station in Manchester, just like many leading radio stations today. The company spent almost a decade building an incredible underground community.
Today, the group is keen to continue helping the industry to evolve. In 2010, Unity achieved an FM license, and now you can listen to the channel virtually anywhere.
Aside from playing some of the best music in the country, Unity also supports leading causes in the UK too, such as “United We Stream.”
Rinse is one of the better-known top music radio stations in the UK for the dance scene. The company, like Unity, started life as a pirate station. Rinse was instrumental in creating some of the biggest genres in the UK, such as Garage and Grime.
The channel once received a warning from the police to prevent them from playing music from rooftops.
Rinse is completely legal today and hosts some of the biggest names in the dance music scene. The station is a particularly popular environment for the younger people of London.
There are tons of educational and internship programs to explore here.
What is the best radio station for music in the UK?
There’s no one-size-fits-all channel for the best radio stations in the UK. Ultimately, the right stations for you will be the ones that deliver the kind of music that appeals most to you.
The good news is that the digital world, combined with the rise of new traditional stations, means that there are tons of way to listen to the tunes you love.
Whether you’re a hardcore fan of rock stations, or you just want to tune in to some of the biggest hits in the UK, you’re sure to find a frequency that works for you.
For more insights into some of the leading radio stations, check out our other articles here on Radio Fidelity. Alternatively, why not learn about the history of radio, and how listening has evolve in the UK over the last few decades?