Broadcasting, Getting Started, Programming, Guide

A Full Guide to Radio Station Formats

It's important to know what kind of demographic your radio station caters to as a broadcaster. One way of understanding this is by knowing what kind of format your radio station fits into. There are several types of radio station formats: from hip hop to country, to jazz and beyond.

As a broadcaster, you have the choice of crafting your radio station around popular formats on the market, or staying away from typical formats and creating something all your own. At Live365, we support all different kinds of diverse radio station programming. The possibilities are endless, and we'd like to support our broadcasters' creativity by offering a full guide into radio station formats!

In this article, you'll learn what radio station formats are, how they were created, and some popular radio formats that are available for you to choose from.

So, without further ado...

What's a Radio Station Format?

Simply put, a radio station format is a template for the overall content a radio station broadcasts. They can be tailor-made by music taste, interest, or advertising demographic.

Typically, a radio station's format is defined by the music or content the station plays. Are most of the songs on your station from indie rock bands? Then your radio station's format would be alternative rock. Is your radio station comprised of you and your friends chatting about the newest movies and TV shows to hit streaming services? Then your station is a talk show.

Stations don't have to be limited to just one format: they can be a combination of several different formats. It's totally possible to have a talk show that plays top 40 contemporary hits and even classical music! After all, you have complete control over your station's programming. When combining several different formats, just be sure that you market your station accordingly so listeners can find you and know what to expect. Having a niche is a great strategy, but you do need to be strategic to get in front of others that would be interested in the intersection of formats that you offer.

Every popular radio station format can also have several sub-formats. For example, country music stations can also play bluegrass, folk, Americana, country rock...the list goes on.

The History of Radio Station Formats

Why did station formats become the norm in radio broadcasting? It's actually because of television.

After the Golden Age of Radio in the 1930s and 40s, televisions became the standard in households during the 1950s. This was a problem for radio, as it had been the dominant medium of entertainment for several years. As The Buggles say, "video killed the radio star."

To compete with television's rise in popularity, radio adapted to TV's approach of having different "channels" and used formats to appeal to different listeners' tastes.

Todd Storz is credited with creating one of the first radio formats. In a restaurant, he noted patrons liked requesting the same songs from the jukebox. Storz then applied this "jukebox theory" to his radio station KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska, playing popular songs over and over. In the 1950s, this new format became known as "The Top 40."

A List of Popular Radio Station Formats

Now that you have a better understanding of radio station formats and how they came to be, here's a list of some popular radio station formats for you to review and consider.


Any station that focuses more on the spoken word than music fits into this category. These stations may announce local, national, or international news, or play out more like a typical podcast show. For local stations based in a specific town, they may also provide listeners with important traffic updates.

Similar Formats Include: Sports, Comedy, Education


Country music began in the 1920s and is a top radio station format in the United States. Country stations usually play a mix of recent hits and classic songs from past decades. There's a broad appeal when it comes to age demographics.

Similar Formats Include: Bluegrass, Folk, Country Rock, Americana


This is your basic top 40 station. The station format appeals to younger audiences, usually teenagers. Adult versions of this format target those around age 30 or older, and play hits from the last 15 to 20 years. Typically, they'll play current popular music - usually pop songs, hip hop, dance, and electronic music.

Similar Formats Include: EDM, Hot Adult Contemporary, Soft Adult Contemporary


An alternative to those who'd prefer not to listen to top 40, these stations program a mix of modern rock, classic rock, punk, and metal music. Typically, these stations have a key demographic of male listeners aged 25-34.

Similar Formats Include: Mainstream Rock, Pop Rock, Indie Rock

Hip Hop/R&B

Both hip hop and R&B were developed by African American and Latino American musicians based in inner-city communities from the 1940s to the 1970s. Today, these radio station formats are among the most popular in the market. Modern hip hop and R&B hits appeal to young adults the most, but classics from past decades can appeal to older generations as well.

Similar Formats Include: Soul, Trap, Rap, Classic Rap


Geared towards older audiences, classical stations play instrumental music from the likes of Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and Bach. However, that doesn't mean they can't play contemporary classical music, such as pieces from Philip Glass or Steve Reich.

Similar Formats Include: Opera, Theater


Originating from the African American communities of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, jazz is a classic music genre and very popular radio station format. Songs played in this format can be either traditional or "smooth," and the demographic tends to be adults aged 25 or older.

Similar Formats Include: Blues, Ragtime, Easy Listening


These stations highlight spiritual content. While they tend to be more popular in southern parts of the United States, they can target a wide variety of different demographics. They can be in a talk format, or play popular spiritual music like Christian rock.

Similar Formats Include: Gospel, Contemporary Christian


This format describes any kind of station that plays content from a specific decade or time period. These stations can play music from as far back as the 1930s or 40s. Most stick to classic hits from the 1950s and beyond.

Similar Formats Include: Doo-wop, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s hits (basically any station that plays music from a specific decade)


Any station that programs Spanish-language material fits into this category. There are a wide array of sub-formats, and these can appeal to all ages.

Similar Formats Include: Spanish Contemporary, Spanish Oldies, Spanish News/Talk, Spanish Tropical, Spanish Variety


Even colleges have their own radio station format! Many colleges and universities have their own on-campus radio stations. They can feature music from up-and-coming artists, or even music from fellow classmates. Run by student volunteers, these stations generally have smaller broadcast ranges. Their audience is typically the students who attend that particular college/university.

Similar Formats Include: Lo-fi (usually music to study to)

Start a radio station with the format of your choice right now with Live365's broadcasting management software. Explore our comprehensive suite of tools to get you streaming in minutes. Sign up now to unlock your internet radio opportunity to captivate listeners with engaging content!

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Article Image: Vintage microphone and headphones. (maxxyustas via DepositPhotos.)

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About Kathryn Milewski

  • New Jersey