A radio format or programming format (not to be confused with broadcast programming) describes the overall content broadcast on a radio station. The radio format emerged mainly in the United States in the 1950s, at a time when radio was compelled to develop new and exclusive ways to programming by competition with television. Since then, the formula has spread as a reference for commercial radio programming worldwide.
A radio format aims to reach a more or less specific audience according to a certain type of programming, which can be thematic or general, more informative or more musical, among other possibilities.[nb 1] Radio formats are often used as a marketing tool and are subject to frequent changes.
Except News/Talk, All-Talk or Sports formats, most programming formats are based on commercial music. However the term also includes the news, bulletins, DJ talk, jingles, commercials, competitions, traffic news, sports, weather and community announcements between the tracks.
Throughout its historical development, the American radio industry has changed its formats not only to contend against the newer and more competitive forms of entertainment media – such as television –, as well to pleasure the contemporary tastes of the American audience and earn profits by meeting the entertainment demands more sufficiently to the benefit of all parties affected. Indeed, the same phenomena has happened in other parts of the world.
However, the United States witnessed the growing strengthening of television over the radio as the major mass media in the country by the late 1940s. American television had more financial resources to produce generalist programs that provoked the migration of countless talents radio networks to the new medium. Under this context, the radio was pressured to seek alternatives to maintain its audience and cultural relevance.
As a consequence, AM radios stations began to emerge in the United States and Canada – many of which "independents", that is not affiliated with the network – developed a format which targeted audiences with programming consisted of music, news, charismatic disc jockeys to directly attract a certain audience.
For example by the 1960s, the Easy listening obtained a stable position on FM radio – a spectrum considered ideal for good music and high fidelity listening as it grew in popularity during that period[nb 2] – and the Middle of the road (MOR) rose as a radio industry term to discern radio stations that played mainstream pop songs from radio stations whose programming was geared towards teenagers and was dominated by rock and roll, the most popular musical genre of the period in the United States and which held the first successful radio format called Top-40. In reality, the Top-40 format was conscientiously prepared to attract the young audience, who was the main consumer of the records sold by the American record industry at that time. Soon, playlists became central to programming and radio formats, although the number of records in a playlist really depends on the format.[nb 3]
By the mid-1960s, American FM radio's penetration began achieving balance with AM radio since the Federal Communications Commission required that co-owned AM and FM stations be programmed independently from each other. This resulted in huge competition between radio stations in the AM and FM spectrum to differentiate themselves for both audiences and advertisers. At that time, it proliferated many radio formats, which included presentation, schedule and target audience, as well as repertoire. Within a few years, FM radio stations were supplying program formats completely analogous to their AM stations counterparts, increased to more than 50% in 1970 and reached 95% in 1980.
During the 1970s and 1980s, radio programming formats expand into commercially successful variations, for example, Adult contemporary (AC), Album-oriented rock (AOR) and Urban contemporary (UC), among others, which spread to most AM and FM radio stations in the United States.
Over time, FM radio came to dominate music programming, while AM radio switched to news and talk formats.
In some countries such as the UK, licences to broadcast on radio frequencies are regulated by the government, and may take account of social and cultural factors including format type, local content, and language, as well as the price available to pay for the spectrum use. This may be done to ensure a balance of available public content in each area, and in particular to enable non-profit local community radio to exist alongside larger and richer national companies. On occasions format regulation may lead to difficult legal challenges when government accuses a station of changing its format, for example arguing in court over whether a particular song or group of songs is "pop" or "rock".
List of formats
The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2020)
United States and Canada
Formats constantly evolve and each format can often be sub-divided into many specialty formats. Some of the following formats are available only regionally or through specialized venues such as satellite radio or Internet radio.
- Pop/Adult Contemporary
- Contemporary hit radio (CHR), occasionally still informally known as top-40 / hot hits)
- Adult contemporary music (AC)
- Adult/variety hits – Broad variety of pop hits spanning multiple eras and formats; Jack FM, Bob FM.
- Classic hits – 1970s/1980s-centered (previously 1960s-1970s) pop music
- Hot adult contemporary (Hot AC)
- Lite adult contemporary (Lite AC)
- Modern adult contemporary (Modern AC)
- Oldies – Late 1950s to early 1970s pop music
- Soft adult contemporary (soft AC)
- Active rock
- Adult album alternative (or just adult alternative) (AAA or Triple-A)
- Album rock / album-oriented rock (AOR)
- Alternative rock
- Classic alternative
- Classic rock
- Lite rock
- Mainstream rock
- Modern rock
- Progressive rock
- Psychedelic rock
- Soft rock
- Country music:
- Classic country (exclusively older music)
- New country/Young country/Hot country (top 40 country with some non-country pop and no older music)
- Mainstream country (top 40 country with some older music)
- Traditional country (mix of old and new music)
- Regional country formats: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma Red Dirt, Newfoundland
- Classic hip-hop
- Quiet storm (most often a "daypart" late night format at urban and urban AC stations, i.e. 7 p.m.–12 a.m. midnight)
- Rhythmic adult contemporary
- Rhythmic contemporary (Rhythmic Top 40)
- Rhythmic oldies
- Soul music
- Dance (dance top-40)
- Space music
- Carolina beach music (regional in the Carolinas; mostly R&B and some pop-country with shuffle beat)
- Easy Listening/New Age
- Folk music
- Hispanic rhythmic
- Regional Mexican (Banda, mariachi, norteño, etc.)
- Rock en Español
- Romántica (Spanish AC)
- Spanish sub-formats:
- Tropical (salsa, merengue, cumbia, etc.)
- Urbano (reggaetón, Latin rap, etc.)
- Caribbean (reggae, soca, merengue, cumbia, salsa, etc.)
- Indian music
- Asian pop
- World music
- Christian music
Seasonal formats typically celebrate a particular holiday and thus, with the notable exception of Christmas music (which is usually played throughout Advent), stations going to a holiday-themed format usually only do so for a short time, typically a day or a weekend.
- Christmas music (usually seasonal, mainly late November into December)
- American patriotic music (short-term format, usually adopted around holidays such as Fourth of July and Memorial Day)
- Halloween music (usually only on or around 31 October)
- Irish folk music (usually only on or around 17 March to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day)
- Summer music (June to August in the Northern Hemisphere)
- Spoken word formats
- All-news radio
- Christian radio
- College radio
- Comedy radio
- Full-service (talk and variety music)
- Old time radio
- Paranormal radio shows
- Radio audiobooks
- Radio documentary
- Radio drama
- Radio soap operas
- Religious radio
- Sports (Sports talk)
- Weather radio
- Radio broadcasting
- The Evolution of Format Radio - Canadian Communication Foundation
- Radio personality
- Television format
- Top 40
- Music radio, old time radio, all-news radio, sports radio, talk radio and weather radio describe the operation of different genres of radio format and each format can often be sub-divided into many specialty formats.
- At that time, there were several American FM stations that belonged to owners of AM stations, so the programming of the AM station was broadcast simultaneously with the station FM. Owners who programmed FM stations independently often did so using avant garde, underground, jazz or highbrow (generally, classical music) program formats as a form to attract the few listeners who owned FM receivers and who were specific about signal quality they heard.
- The figure 40 was established by Todd Storz and Bill Stewart n their station KOWH-AM in Omaha, Nebraska, inspired by the fact that there were 40 records in a bar jukebox. In the 1960s, some radio formats reduced the figure to 30 records, or even just 10.
- Shepherd, John; Horn, David; Laing, Dave, eds. (2003). "Programming". Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. p. 499. ISBN 9781501329234.
- Margaret A., ed. (2013). "Radio Entertainment". History of the Mass Media in the United States: An Encyclopedia. p. 564. ISBN 9781135917494.
- "What is a radio format?" Archived 2010-01-02 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Beisbier, Paul F Frank, ed. (2019). The Value of History: Values and Beliefs. ISBN 9781645446378.
- "7.3 Radio Station Formats". The University of Minnesota Libraries. 1 May 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
- Shepherd, John; Horn, David; Laing, Dave, eds. (2003). "Playlist". Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. p. 499. ISBN 9781501329234.
- "New York Radio Guide: Radio Format Guide", NYRadioGuide.com, 2009-01-12, webpage: NYRadio-formats.
- Media related to Radio formats at Wikimedia Commons