The best top 40 radio stations are the ultimate resource for music lovers in search of fantastic hit songs from their favorite artists. Rather than focusing on a specific genre, American top 40 stations prioritize playing the biggest chart toppers in the music industry.
Originally rising to fame in the 1950s, “top 40” programming helped to introduce listeners to a host of new sounds from different genres, often dependent on the personality of the disc jockey, and industry knowledge of big hits.
These stations have always appealed to younger generations and are often the number one pick for many public spaces, like retail stores and supermarkets.
Aside from top 40 hits, fans of these stations can often expect to hear a variety of talk shows as part of the programming, designed to get listeners engaged with the station. You might also encounter a range of contests and call-in segments too.
Let’s discover some of the best top 40 radio stations in the US.
American top 40 radio stations
Before the 1950s in America, radio programming was a world apart from what we know today. Most stations were known for broadcasting chunks of programming, from 30-minute soap operas, to chunks of music, and news.
Most of the time, the content shared on these stations was produced outside of the local radio stations and delivered to multiple places around the country.
In the early 1950s, a new approach to programming music began, the radio broadcaster, Todd Storz was credited with inventing a new format: The Top 40.
Purchasing a radio station known as KOWH with his father, Todd started creating music-focused radio broadcasts which played the most popular songs on repeat. This approach quickly caught on.
As rock and roll became the most popular music genre in the late 50s throughout America, the top 40 radio station thrived. Stations started using jingles to promote their format, and legendary names like WHB, WTIK, and KLIF emerged.
Now, the top 40 station continues to be among the most popular options for radio stations across the US.
Let’s take a look at some of the leader in modern-day pop music.
Available: Online, 99.7 FM (San Francisco, California)
Licensed to San Francisco, California, KMVQ-FM is a top 40/ CHR radio station owned by the Bonneville International company. The frequency was originally owned by the NBC group, and broadcast an all-around news format until around 1978.
At this point, NBC began taking advantage of the growing success of FM radio, and programmers created a new format “hot adult contemporary”.
The station became “KYUU” and broadcast its hot adult contemporary music for a decent amount of time, before gradually migrating towards a more “Top 40 radio” format. Now known as 99.7 NOW, the KMVQ station evolved to the format we have today in around 2010.
Aside from broadcasting top hits over the FM broadcasting channels, KMVQ also offers a set of HD radio options offering both top 40 and dance music.
Available: Online and 101.3 FM (Hamden, Connecticut)
Advertised as Connecticut’s number one hit music station, QKCI FM is a popular station with a host of amazing shows for listeners to enjoy. During the 1980s, the station became an affiliate of the Rick Dees weekly top 40 show, and in 2004, the station switched to broadcasting radio in HD format.
Today, aside from its central top 40 channel, WKCI also has a number of HD subchannels, playing news and talk programs, as well as “mainstream urban” music via “The Beat 100.9”. Currently, WKCI-FM belongs to the iHeartMedia Company.
Interestingly, iHeartMedia also owns another talk station in Virginia which shares the same call sign of WKCI, at a 970 AM frequency.
Available: Online or 94.9 FM (San Francisco, California)
Another extremely popular top 40 music radio station in the San Francisco area, KYLD is owned by iHeartMedia. Following the mainstream top 40 style, the station has evolved over the years to broadcast everything from country music, to classical.
The company became a full top 40 and pop station in 1997.
Interestingly, KYLD was involved in some controversy during the 90s, when a story was circulating that Bill Clinton had tied up traffic on LA runways for over an hour when he was getting a haircut.
The KYLD DJ for morning shows, Mancow Muller, staged a parody of the incident during rush hour, and Muller was fired from the station.
Muller also ended up facing prosecution and was charged to three years’ probation and a fine by the municipal court in San Francisco.
Available: Online or 92.5 FM (Bellevue, Washington)
Often referred to as “Movin 92.5”, this top 40 station in Washington is owned by the Hubbard Broadcasting company and airs a comprehensive top 40 format.
The station is the flagship station home to the Brooke and Jeffrey morning show, hosted by Jeffrey Dubow and Brooke Fox, which is now distributed around the US.
KMQV took on the top 40 and CHR music styles in 2010, and within three years, it became the highest-rated CHR station on the market, as well as one of the top radio stations overall.
The success KQMV had within the radio market caused a number of changes within the radio landscape, with many other stations updating their own broadcasting strategy.
The station now has its own website, as well as an avid following on social media, where people can get in touch and request songs.
5. Today’s Hits Radio
Today’s Hits Radio is a dedicated online radio station, committed to playing the top hits in a top 40 broadcasting format, 24/7. The station is available through multiple applications and syndicated radio websites, so you can find it just about anywhere on the web.
Known for playing mostly pop hits, Today’s Hits Radio is part of the Hits Radio Network, which is a leading online broadcaster, responsible for various live streaming channels in different genres. The station also broadcasts live via frequencies in both Orlando and Tokyo.
Aside from top 40 music, you can also find a host of different kinds of programming on Today’s Hits Radio, including segments of talk and the occasional commercial.
6. WKSC FM
Available: Online and 103.5 FM (Chicago, Illinois)
Owned by the famous iHeartMedia Company, WKSC FM, or “103.5 Kiss FM) is a station licensed in Chicago Illinois and broadcasting the top 40 CHR format. The station started life way back in 1957 and began with a light classical music format.
In the years following, WKSC experimented with various different musical options, including a significant amount of rock.
For a period, WKSC became the “Beat”, and played a host of rock music albums and songs, without any radio host. In January 2001, the station took on its top 40 radio format, and started to re-introduce various hosts and programming.
The syndicated program Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 and American Top 40 became popular too.
DreX was morning host for WKSC from 2003 to 2010, and other jocks included Nina Charlotte, Silly Jilly, and David L, among others.
Available: Online and 102.7 FM (LA, California)
It’s impossible to write any list about the best top 40 radio stations in the US without mentioning KIIS-FM. This radio station in LA is owned by iHeartMedia, and it’s the flagship station for the world-renowned show “On Air with Ryan Seacrest”.
The station offers a standard analog transmission, as well as two HD subchannels.
KIIS FM has achieved a host of accolades over the years for its popular shows and talk sessions, as well as its dedication to top 40s music.
The station was the second-highest revenue billing station in the US during 2008, and it was honored by the National Association for Broadcasters with the Marconi Award in 2010.
KIIS-FM is even available on the Sirius XM radio system, on channel 11. Seacrest became the co-host of the syndicated talk show in New York in 2017, Live with Kelly, and Seacrest began hosting “On Air” from a studio at WABC-TV instead.
It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard of KIIS today.
Available: Online and 95.1 FM (Texas)
KNDE is a unique mention on our list of the top 40 radio stations, because it moves away from the standard commercial format.
Otherwise known as “Candy 95.1”, KNDE is a college station in Texas, known for its excellent music selection, as well as a handful of popular shows, like Morning Candy with Frito and Katy.
The station has had a host of popular DJ presences throughout the years and is currently owned by the Bryan Broadcasting Company. Though this college station experimented with a rock format for some time, it sticks to a mostly adult contemporary and top 40 format today.
KNDE won the Marconi award for the station of the year in Contemporary Hit Radio in 2018, bringing it to the attention of a wide range of music lovers.
Available: Online or 102.1 FM (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
A popular local choice in Philadelphia, WIOQ, also known as Q102 Philly is a top 40 radio station owned by iHeartMedia. The station carries a number of nationally syndicated shows for listeners, including the Elvis Duran and the Morning Show hit program.
Over the years, like many of the best top 40 radio stations in the US, WIOQ has explored a number of genres for its music, including classical music and rock.
In 1988, WIOQ was sold to the EZ Communications brand and subsequently dropped its previous “oldies” vibe to adopt a new Top 40 format, with a focus on rhythm and dance.
Though the station leaned mostly towards “urban” material and dance, it also offered a range of pop and rock crossover songs. By 1998, the station had evolved to a more mainstream CHR strategy.
Available: Online or 99.5 FM (Washington, DC)
Another fantastic top 40 radio station, WIHT is otherwise known as HOT 99.5, and brands itself as the top hit music station in DC. The station officially adopted its top 40 approach to music in 2001 and started to compete with other major radio stations like WWZZ.
Eventually, WIHT earned its own HD radio substation, and flipped the format of this to match the Pride Radio format offered by iHeartMedia. For many music and radio lovers, WIHT is best-known for the Kane Show, during the morning drive programming block.
Kane replaced the original show, the “Hot Morning Mess” with Kris Gamble, Mark Kaye, and Ron Ross.
Originally, the show started with Kane as the host, and Samy K and Sara Fraser as co-hosts. The show eventually became the “best local morning show” according to industry magazine FMQB in 2009.
Available: Online and 93.3 FM (El Cajon, California)
Located in California and serving the Dan Diego market, KHTS is an iHeartMedia channel, dedicated to playing contemporary hits music, and top 40 songs. The station first signed on in 1961, as a family radio broadcaster, offering a host of talk shows and fun daily segments.
In March 1996, KHTS began experimenting with a simulcast of the WFLZ-FM station from Tampa Florida, in an early version of voice tracking. Experimentation over the years helped to bring a range of new DJ names into the market.
One particularly well-known personality from KHTS was Geena the Latina, who came from the KIIS-FM station to co-host the morning drive show.
In 2017, KHTS became the San Diego Affiliate for the American Top 40 Show and began airing weekly iHeartRadio countdown shows in 2018 with JoJo Wright.
Available: Online and 97.9 FM (Neptune Beach, Florida)
Broadcasting to the Jacksonville area, 97.9 Kiss FM, or WKSL is an iHeartMedia channel with a CHR and top 40 radio format. The station carries two popular syndicated programs, On Air with Ryan Seacrest, and Elvis Duran and the Morning Show.
The WKSL station originally started broadcasting in 1985, following an “Oldies” format, before briefly switching to Smooth Jazz. Over the years, WKSL started taking a more “rhythmic leaning” approach with its music, and gradually transformed into the CHR and top-40 station programming genre.
Though WKSL had a brief stint with the branding of “Radio Now”, it switched back to the “Kiss FM” name in 2013. WKSL has been home to a number of personalities in the radio landscape over the years, including MJ in the Morning, and Skip Kelly.
Available: Online and 103.1 FM (Hearne, Texas)
Known for playing top 40 music in Texas, KVJM belongs to the iHeartMedia brand. Before the station took on its current format, it was the only Urban Contemporary station in the Brazos Valley region.
The station launched in 1984 with a part-time Spanish format through the day, and an Urban format during the night – following this strategy for ten years.
Eventually, the station, which was originally “KHRN”, relaunched as an urban station under the Power 94 branding. This station played a wide selection of Hip Hop music, as well as classic soul and Jazz. It also became home to the Tom Joyner Morning Show.
After selling to Clear Channel (later iHeartMedia), the era of urban music came to an end, and KVJM took on a Spanish music format. Eventually, this once again updated to top 40 music, with the branding of “Kiss FM”.
The station was classed one of the best on the market between the years of 1986 and 1992.
Available: Online and 101.3 FM (Richfield, Minnesota)
A commercial radio station in America, KDWB-FM is licensed to the Twin Cites region of Minnesota and follows the top 40 music format. Interestingly, between its FM and AM frequencies, the station has maintained its position as an uninterrupted outlet of top 40 music since 1959.
Perhaps one of the longest-lasting top 40 radio stations on the market, KDWB-FM is popular both nationally, and locally, despite originally not having a huge following. Over the years, the station has been home to a number of different personalities, including Bob Shannon, and Lou Reigert.
Dave Ryan in the Morning is the leading morning show from KDWB, which accompanies several popular syndicated shows from throughout the US, as well as various top 40 hits programming segments.
Available: Online and 106.1 FM (Tacoma, Washington)
Branded as Hits 106.1 FM, KBKS is a commercial station and top 40 radio broadcaster, originally airing as KLAY-FM on 106.3 FM. The station moved to the 106.1 FM dial position in 1961 and started airing a progressive rock music format during 1972.
For some time, KBKS experimented with the country music format, before gradually switching over to the Rhythmic Adult Contemporary format.
The shift to the most recent top 40 hits format happened during 2018, and KBKS also took this opportunity to drop all of its on-air personalities at the time.
It wasn’t until November 12, 2018, when KBKS took on a new Carla Marie & Anthony Show, which premiered as the new morning show for the station. Carla Marie and Anthony announced a departure from the station in 2020.
Choosing the best top 40 radio stations
Clearly, your choice of the best top 40 radio stations in America will vary depending on many factors. As you can see, there’s no shortage of options to choose from in today’s radio landscape.
It’s also worth checking out some of the local channels in your area to see what they have to offer whenever you have the chance to go frequency hopping.
For more inspiration on a range of different kinds of music genres and radio entertainment options, check out our other lists of leading stations in the US.
Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.