Think of any of your favorite teen movies in the US from the 80s or 90s, and you’re sure to remember at least one scene that involved a handful of kids blasting their car stereo.
You might think that the passion that Americans have for radio would have dwindled in recent years. After all, we don’t need a DJ to track down our favorite hits for us these days. We all have access to endless streams of music on our smartphones and computers.
Despite this, studies reveal that American radio stations are still the number 1 way to discover new music across the country. Whether they’re rocking out to trending tunes, or listening to a talk show from witty presenters, the percentage of Americans listening to radio has remained steady since the 1970s!
Now that’s commitment.
US radio stations might not be the cool new thing, but they’ve managed to keep the attention, and loyalty of their listeners for decades.
So, which stations are the most popular?
With such a vast number of radio stations to choose from, it’s not easy to track down the one with the biggest listener count. Fortunately, we’ve done some research into the best radio stations in the US on your behalf.
Let’s take a look.
The state of US radio stations today
Old-fashioned though they may be, AM/FM radio stations remain to be the biggest mass-reach medium in the US, with over 90% of consumers listening weekly.
Despite the explosive growth of podcasts and streaming, American citizens remain true to their favorite disk jockeys – regardless of the technology that’s available to them elsewhere. However, while we know for certain that America loves radio – what’s harder to figure out is which US radio stations are the best.
Generally, the most listened to radio stations in the US are tracked and ranked by companies like Nielsen. This group provides estimates on the top US radio stations according to things like regional market and group. However, there’s no nationwide information available to outline one top American radio station to rule them all. Ultimately, that means that there’s a lot of estimation and personal preference involved when creating a list of the top American radio stations.
One of the largest audience-measurement brands in the country, Arbitron, even says that the task of figuring out how many listeners Rush Limbaugh has alone is far too complicated and expensive for them even to attempt.
Groups like Talkers Magazine have tried creating lists of the best radio stations in the US that focus on talk shows and news releases. However, the data is continuously changing and very difficult to pull together into a comprehensive image. While we know basic information, like Sirius XM radio has about 32.7 million subscribers, and the American Top 40 has over 20 million listeners each week, information is limited.
So, what does this mean for our evaluation of the best radio stations in the US?
Essentially, we can only deliver estimations.
On the plus side, it’s easy to see what the most popular American radio station programs are, just by looking at the number of weekly listeners:
The Rush Limbaugh Show: 15.5 million listeners.
The Sean Hannity Show: 15 million listeners.
Marketplace Financial News: 14.8 million listeners.
All Things Considered: 14.7 million listeners.
The Dave Ramsey Show: 14 million listeners.
Morning Edition: 13.9 million listeners.
The Mark Levin Show: 11 million listeners.
The Glenn Beck Program: 10.5 million listeners.
Coast to Coast: 10.5 million listeners.
What types of American radio stations are people listening to?
So, if we can’t pinpoint the most listened to radio station in the US, what can we do?
Well, we can always look at what kind of shows Americans are listening to in their spare time. By looking at the number of new stations that pop up around the country, and evaluating listener numbers from Nielsen, we see that talk/news radio captures the largest share of the US.
When it comes to the top American radio stations, talk channels take up 10% of the market share, followed closely by adult contemporary channels (8%). Adult modern US radio stations cover things like trending music in the top 40 charts, combined with entertainment programs, competitions, and snippets of news.
Interestingly, country music American radio stations came in third on the list of the most-listened-to channels. Country has 7.3% of the market share. Additionally, while pop music stations used to hold the second spot with 8.1% of listening, it now only accounts for 6.9% as of 2018.
Once again, these numbers have a few caveats. When you’re ranking the top US radio stations according to genre or style, it’s important to remember that there are differences between age groups. For instance, POP channels are the most popular between 18-34 year old’s, as well as 25-54 year old’s. However, news/talk shows were more likely to attract older listeners.
Country music also commands an above-average share of the Millennial generation in radio this year. Millennials have shown an increasing preference for hot adult contemporary and urban contemporary channels too.
The 10 most listened to radio stations in the US
Whether cooking dinner, driving their cars, or just working out at the gym, Americans love an opportunity to listen to their favorite radio stations. Not only does radio provide reliable entertainment around-the-clock, but it’s also easy to access whenever you need it. There’s no need to wait for an internet connection to stream something online when you’ve got an FM tuner in your car.
While there aren’t any go-to numbers to show the best radio stations in the US according to listener count, we can take a look at some of the most frequently mentioned American radio stations to get an idea of the top contenders.
10. WBEZ 91.5 FM
Known for shows like “All Things Considered,” and “This American Life,” WBEZ FM is Chicago’s talk and information-oriented station. Available on FM wavelengths, and on the internet, WBEZ is a non-profit station that started in 1943. The station also broadcasts content from American Public Media and is affiliated with Public Radio, and the National Public Radio.
9. WFCC-FM 107.5 FM
Running in Massachusetts, this is a station with a more classical air, designed to give listeners a taste of their favorite music from years gone by. The station mostly plays classical music on weekdays, although you can hear the occasional specialist show for jazz and other genres. Popular presenters include Dave Reed, Larry King, Don Spencer, and Mark Calder.
8. KXRY 107.1 FM
KXRY is a well-known independent radio station operating in Portland, Oregon. Usually, it’s known for playing a mixed range of talk radio, cultural programs, and music from various genres. The broadcast license for KXRY is owned by Common Frequency LLC, and the station has more than 70 different disc jockeys – most of which broadcast live.
7. WLTW Lite 106.7 FM
A contemporary radio station licensed in New York City, the WLTW radio station is owned by iHeartMedia and broadcasts to the whole of the New York Metro area. Interestingly, this company’s transmitter can be found in the heart of the Empire State Building. This station has consistently remained one of the top radio stations in New York City, according to Nielsen numbers.
6. WKTU 103.5 FM
Another station owned by the iHeartMedia brand, WKTU is a channel dedicated to Rhythmic Hot AC music, and it broadcasts around New York City. The transmitter is also located at the Empire State Building, just like WLTW Lite. WKTU has hosted various live events, including their annual “BeatStock” festival, which has featured artists like Calvin Harris, Ariana Grande, and Jennifer Lopez.
5. KEXP 90.3 FM
KEXP 90.3 FM is a listener-supported public radio station in Washington, Seattle. The channel specializes in indie rock and alternative programming, and its license is owned by the Friends of KEXP organisation. Weekly programs are dedicated to various genres, including electronica, punk, rockabilly, world music, and various others. There are also plenty of live in-studio performances to tune into.
4. WFMU 91.1 FM
Another listener-supported station broadcasting in New Jersey, the WFMU station covers most of the New York metropolitan area and provides radio in a freeform format. That means that you get a selection of cultural shows, music, and entertainment to choose from. Along with a traditional radio broadcast, WFMU is also available to stream over the internet too. The team regularly posts music blogs online too.
3. KUSF 90.3 FM – Now online only
The KUSF radio station started as a small syndicated channel from the University of San Francisco. Eventually, the channel sold its frequency and became an internet-only channel. Notably, this was one of the first American radio stations ever to play punk rock. The company was responsible for giving exposure and meaning to world-renowned bands, including Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and more.
2. Kiss FM (WKSC-FM) 103.5 FM
Not to be confused with KISS FM in the UK, or countless other KISS stations in the US, this station plays in Chicago and is owned by iHeartMedia. The channel plays a top 40 show for trending music that reaches millions every week. They also offer a range of popular morning and driving shows too.
1. KOST 103.5 FM
Running out of Los Angeles, California, KOST FM broadcasts adult-contemporary music, with sister stations in various locations around the California state. Advertised with the slogan “Feel Good Los Angeles,” KOST draws in millions of listeners every week.
How many radio stations are there in the US? And other facts
It’s an exciting time for audio broadcasting, particularly in America.
Throughout the world, we have countless new ways to listen to entertainment and music. From FM/AM radio stations to podcasts, streaming and more – the audio platform is growing. According to recent reports, however, the top radio stations in the US remain to be the go-to source for audio information and entertainment for Americans.
The best radio stations in the US bring listeners their daily dose of news, music, and even laughter in the form of humorous sketches and shock jockey conversations. For an insight into the growth of the most popular radio stations in the US, let’s take a look at some interesting facts.
The companies with the largest market share in radio broadcasting in the US are Sirius XM Radio, iHeartMedia, Cumulus Media, and Entercom Communications Corp.
AM/FM is America’s top-reach medium, with massive reach across multiple audiences. The largest generation listening to top US radio stations today is Generation X – between the ages of 35 and 54. 97% of this generation listens to radio every month.
The radio broadcasting industry in the US offers a wide range of broadcasting medium options, including top 40 music, urban radio, country, rock and alternative, talk and sports, news, and adult contemporary
Over the past 5 years, the radio broadcasting industry in the US has grown by 2.1% increasing to a value of $22 billion in 2019. However, the number of radio businesses in the US has declined by 5.1%.
Initially, top US radio stations in the US were only able to broadcast over AM/FM bands; now, it’s possible to access radio through a range of digital and online streaming stations. Additionally, more than 750 new low-power FM community stations have entered the airwaves since 2014.
Estimates suggest that there are around 15,330 US radio stations available to choose from. The number of radio stations continues to increase as more local and low-power stations emerge around the country.
Why do the top radio stations in the US always start with W or K?
Speaking of interesting facts, like how many radio stations there are in the US, have you ever wondered why American radio stations always start with the letter W or K? Most of the best radio stations in the US have specific call signals that are made up using a four-letter identification code. Usually, the station will come up with something more catchy than the four letters – but you’ll still hear that code as part of the channel’s regular announcements.
While there are various four-letter codes out there, most of the top US radio stations feature the starting number of W or K. There’s a reason for this that you may not be aware of. In 1912, various countries around the world attended an event where they could discuss the transformation of international radio telegraphs.
The group decided to assign a specific selection of letters to each country’s television and radio signals. The US, for instance, received the letters A, W, K, and N. The letters A and N went to military stations – specifically helping to keep navy and army groups connected, particularly during wartime. However, the other letters, W, and K were given to commercial radio stations.
Most radio stations west of the Mississippi were asked to name their station with a K, while the stations to the east could use the W. However, there’s a bit of discrepancy here, as some radio stations had already begun broadcasting before this, and they weren’t required to change their names.
The three letters that come after the W or K in a call signal can mean a variety of different things. Sometimes, the letters will refer to the networks that own the station. For instance, WTBS, or WABC. However, sometimes, there’s an actual station number included in the name, like KTWO. In rare circumstances, broadcasters might even choose letters that make up a specific acronym or word.
Why are the best radio stations in the US still thriving?
Insights into the growth of the top American radio stations aside, you might be wondering why this medium continues to thrive, even in an age of streaming and online podcasts.
Now that tools like Spotify and Apple Music give us the freedom to choose the songs that we want to listen to each day – why would we continue listening to something we have less control over? According to some experts, the answer could be that Americans don’t want to be overwhelmed by choice when they’re seeking out information and entertainment.
Today, we might have access to all the music we could ever want, but most of us simply don’t have the time to pull all of our favorite tunes together into a playlist. On top of that, we also don’t know when to start seeking out new music to listen to. We might not realise that it’s a good idea to listen to a new tune if we haven’t heard of the artist before.
Rather than be overwhelmed by options, most consumers would rather tune into American radio stations that can do the hard work for them. The top radio stations in the US deliver a carefully curated selection of news, music, and entertainment, designed to meet the needs and preferences of their listener.
The format is so effective that even streaming music services are beginning to learn from it. For instance, Spotify introduced Discover Weekly a while ago. This algorithm-driven playlist continually updates and refreshes with new recommendations for the listener. That way, you don’t have to go out and find new music to check out yourself.
Even with the introduction of these new algorithm-based services, tools like Spotify will never be able to fully replicate the experience of the best radio stations in the US. You can only get the perfect selection of news, insights, personality, and music that radio provides by listening to the top US radio stations in your area. No other interaction is the same.
What’s happening to the top US radio stations?
So, are American radio stations still going strong?
The evidence suggests that the answer is yes.
According to Edison research, 70% of all audio consumption in the US happens in the car, and over half of that comes from FM/AM radio stations. 84% of Americans polled for a study said that they use the radio as their primary source of entertainment and information in the car during 2011. In 2018, when the same survey was repeated in 2018, the researchers still got the 84% result.
If that wasn’t enough evidence that the best radio stations in the US are still going strong, how about the fact that Deloitte Global believes that adults will be listening to about 90 minutes of radio a day this year. Additionally, the company also said that radio will continue to perform well with all demographics – including the younger generations with access to digital media.
By 2025, Deloitte believes that American radio stations will provide more entertainment for 18 to 34-year-old’s than television. While it’s easy to look at these predictions and assume they’re overzealous, it’s fair to say that radio has almost always been underestimated. Throughout history, countless naysayers said that it would be replaced by television and other tools.
Despite the arrival of new technology, radio remains strong.
Whatever the best radio stations in the US might be, the studies show that these incredible channels aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
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