Top 40 radio has had quite a lengthy history. Since its inception in the 1950s, its been a type of station format with a lot of importance for music nerds, as well as for everyday people just driving to work with their radios on. You may be considering creating a top 40 radio station of your own. If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Broadcasting a top 40 radio station has its own set of pros and cons. There are benefits and challenges completely unique to these kinds of stations, and it’s best to be aware of them before starting your own. Below, you’ll find 4 pros and 4 cons of playing top 40 music on your radio station. They may convince you – or dissuade you – from becoming a top 40 broadcaster.
1. Your Popular Songs Will Attract Many Listeners
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of playing top 40 songs on your station is that broadcasting popular songs will potentially make your station more popular. If you’re playing trendy music, your station will undoubtedly appeal to people who enjoy those trends. Part of the reason why people listen to radio is to learn what songs are hot at the moment, so your part in broadcasting those hot new songs will give you some radio brownie points, so to speak.
2. You’ll Play a Variety of Genres
Top 40 often gets a bad rep in terms of musical variety. You may think a top 40 station would be limited to only playing current pop music, but that’s not quite the case these days. With the dawn of music streaming services, social media trends, and even TV tune crazes, older songs – and tracks that encompass several different genres – occassionally enter or re-enter the charts. Take Kate Bush’s "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" for example. It got tons of airplay on top 40 stations after being featured on Stranger Things season 4 in 2022 and topping several music charts due to its popularity. It was a song released all the way back in 1985 and was regularly being played alongside brand new tracks like Harry Styles’ "As It Was" and Lizzo’s "About Damn Time."
Besides occasional tracks from different decades, you’ll also hear top 40 play songs from genres like R&B, electronic/dance, hip-hop, rock, and alternative. Even songs from the Latin and K-pop genres have been getting loads of airtime from top 40 stations in recent years.
3. You’ve Got Charts to Guide You
If you choose to go the top 40 route with your station, you’ve got a lot of your programming work cut out for you. No need to guess which songs will perform well with your audience: you can just check music charts like the Billboard Hot 100, Ryan Seacrest’s American Top 40, or even charts on YouTube, Spotify, or Apple Music. Most charts have the same rankings, but some differ, especially when it comes to lower spots. If you do research on a variety of different charts, you’ll have an even wider variety of hit songs to play for fans.
4. You May Interest a Younger Audience
Let’s face it: most of the songs on top 40 charts are coming from younger artists. Therefore, your top 40 station will definitely draw in a number of younger music fans. Of course, that’s not to say your station can’t attract older demographics! Several kinds of people listen to top 40 on a daily basis. But in general, your station will likely resonate most with a younger crowd. This is good to keep in mind as you plan your marketing, station aesthetic, and shows around your top 40 theme.
1. Your Station Will Be Viewed as "Generic"
The biggest flaw of top 40 radio? It’s not cool with the hipsters.
Okay, so we know top 40 stations tend to attract a variety of common, everyday people. But the demographic your station will be missing is the niche music lovers. The people who prefer classic rock, oldies, or instrumental stations, for example. It’s extremely hard to hook in those kinds of listeners – especially since some of them flat-out refuse to listen to any kind of "top 40 garbage."
By playing top 40, your station is basically a small fish in a big pond, as top 40 is an extremely common radio station format. You’ll be playing the same songs as a ton of other stations. Therefore, your station may be viewed as "generic" and "just another top 40 station" to listeners who have a more defined musical palette. This isn’t a reason to lose hope in your station’s future (we’ll go over some tips to separate your station from the crowd in a bit), but it is the main obstacle you will have to overcome with your top 40 station.
2. You’re Limited in Your Own Personal Song Choices
Piggybacking off the theme of being generic, owning a top 40 station limits your own musical freedom in terms of picking songs. You may think a new song released by your favorite band is so catchy and cool, but because it’s not within the top 40 charts, you won’t be able to include it in your music rotations in order to appeal to the rating gods.
This may make you feel like a sell-out or a broadcaster with no personality. It can seriously mess with your mental health and if you feel restrained due to your lack of song choices, a top 40 station may not be right for you. And hey – that’s okay! You can still play a mix of popular songs and lesser-known music and run a successful station. Ultimately, being picky with your track picks and only including tunes from the charts is just a good business practice that comes with owning a top 40 station.
3. You Must Frequently Update Your Top 40 Song Rotations
Some music charts change daily, while others switch out their rankings on a week-by-week basis. In any case, you’ll have to update your music rotations regularly in order to keep up with what’s hot on top 40 radio. It’s up to you how regularly you’ll need to update (obviously, the more frequently, the better), but yes…in order to keep your top 40 status on the air, you’ll have to do a lot more updating than the niche stations out there. AT LEAST once a month. If you’re not up for that challenge, programming your top 40 station can get cumbersome.
4. Your Song Rotations May Get Repetitive to Listeners
If a hit song is staying on the charts for weeks and weeks on end, it will also stay in your top 40 rotation for weeks. If listeners really like that certain song, hearing it on your station over and over again won’t be a problem. But if one of your listeners dislikes that song or has neutral feelings towards it, hearing it over and over again will feel repetitive. And then they’ll probably start tuning in to another station.
In general, you may be playing the same songs twice or more in a day due to the limited nature of top 40. This is why it’s so important to check a variety of different music charts when programming your station. You may be able to find 10 or more popular songs from other lists, and the more you can broadcast, the less repetitive your station will feel.
We’re not saying top 40 radio is a good or bad thing from this list – it all comes down to your perspective. However, the main takeaway from owning a top 40 station is that while your music will likely appeal to a lot of listeners, it will be hard to make those listeners loyal if there’s not something unique about your station in particular.
Therefore, if you’re set on making your own top 40 station, we recommend staying on top of updating your rotations and beefing up your radio segments that aren’t related to playing music. Work hard on your station’s jingle, create engaging talk shows during your music breaks with fun radio personalities, play games, be active on social media, and make your logos, cover banners, and aesthetics as pristine as they can possibly be. The more ways you can seperate your top 40 station from others, the more you can show how different you are compared to the rest. And consequently, the more loyal your listeners will be.
And remember: you don’t have to strictly play top 40 on your station in order to do well. In fact, playing a mix of top 40 and more niche music will likely help you attract a wide audience filled with a mix of demographics. If you want to keep your top 40 theme but are trying to make your station feel less repetitive, consider hosting themed events where you play only 80s music, or instrumental dance tracks, or 70s tracks every Saturday night. The possibilities are endless; just be sure you properly strategize and communicate your events. And your audience will thank you for the variety.
That’s it for your pros and cons list. Whether this article encouraged or deterred you from creating a top 40 station, we hope you learned something new. Want to listen to some top 40 radio right now? Maybe you’d like to check some stations out for inspiration when creating yours? Click here to view our top 40 stations on Live365.
We hope this helped, and happy broadcasting!
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Article Image: Close-up of a cassette tape. Tape on top contains red-colored handwriting that reads "Top 40." (Lenscap Photography via Shutterstock.)