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Contemporary hit radio (also known as CHR, Contemporary Hits, Current Hits, Hit Music, Top 40, Kids music, Teen Pop) is a radio format that is common in the United Statesmarker, United Kingdommarker, Canadamarker and Australia that focuses on playing current and recurrent popular music as determined by the top 40 music charts. There are several subcategories, dominantly focusing on rock, pop, or urban music. Used alone, CHR most often refers to the CHR/pop format. The term Contemporary Hit Radio was coined in the early 1980s by Radio & Records magazine to designate Top 40 stations which continued to play hits from all musical genres as pop music splintered into Adult contemporary, urban contemporary and other formats.The term top 40 is also used to refer to the actual list of hit songs, and, by extension, to refer to pop music in general. The term has also been modified to describe Top 50; Top 30; Top 20; Top 10; Hot 100 (each with its number of songs) and Hot Hits radio formats, but carrying more or less the same meaning and having the same creative point of origin with Todd Storz as further refined by Gordon McLendon as well as Bill Drake.


There are also ethnic variations, such as CHR/español (Latin pop), and CHR/Tejano (Tex-Mex and Tejano) which are commonly found in Texasmarker, Californiamarker, and Mexicomarker.

Key contributors

Todd Storz

Credit for the format is widely given to Todd Storz, who was the director of radio station KOWHmarker-AM in Omahamarker, Nebraskamarker in 1951. At that time typical AM radio programming consisted largely of "block programming" — pre-scheduled, sponsored programs of a wide variety, including radio dramas and variety shows. Local popular music hits, if they made it on the air at all, had to be worked in between these segments. Storz noted the great response certain songs got from the record-buying public and compared it to the way certain selections on jukeboxes were played over and over. He expanded his domain of radio stations, purchasing WTIX-AM in New Orleansmarker, Louisianamarker, gradually converted his stations to an all-hits format, and pioneered the practice of surveying record stores to determine which singles were popular each week. Storz found that the more people heard a given song on the radio or from the jukebox, the more likely they were to buy a copy; a conclusion not obvious in the industry at the time. In 1952 he purchased what was then WLAF-AM in Lafayette Indiana and constructed WAZY-A/F which is still the longest running Top 40 FM in existence to this day. In 1954, Storz purchased WHBmarker-AM, a high-powered station in Kansas Citymarker, Missourimarker which could be heard throughout the Midwest and Great Plains, converted it to an all-hits format, and dubbed the result "Top 40". Shortly thereafter WHB debuted the first top 40 countdown, a reverse-order playing of the station's ranking of hit singles for that week. Within a few years, Top 40 stations appeared all over the country to great success, spurred by the burgeoning popularity of rock and roll music, especially that of Elvis Presley. A 1950's employee at WHB, Ruth Meyer, went on to have tremendous success in the early to mid-60's as program director of New York's premiere top 40 station at that time, WMCA.

Storz Broadcasting Company consisted of six AM radio stations, all featuring Top 40 in the sixties.

Gordon McLendon

Although Todd Storz is regarded as the father of the Top 40 format, Gordon McLendon of Dallasmarker, Texasmarker is regarded as the person who took an idea and turned it into a mass media marketing success in combination with the development in that same city of PAMS jingles. McLendon's successful KLIF in Dallas, which went Top 40 around 1953 or 1954, soon became perhaps the most imitated radio station in America. With careful attention to programming, McLendon presented his stations as packages to advertisers and listeners alike. It was the combination of Top 40 and PAMS jingles which became the key to the success of the radio format itself. Not only were the same records played on different stations across America, but so were the same jingle music beds whose lyrics were resung repetitively for each station to create individual station identity. To this basic mix were added contests, games and disc jockey patter. Various groups (including Bartell Broadcasters), emphasized local variations on their Top 40 stations.

Gordon McLendon would operate approximately a dozen and a half AM, FM and TV stations at various times, experimenting with formats other than Top 40 (including Beautiful Music and all-news).

Rick Sklar

In the early 1960s Rick Sklar also developed the Top 40 format for radio station WABCmarker in New York Citymarker which was then copied by stations in the eastern and mid-western United States such as WKBW and WLSmarker.

Bill Drake

Bill Drake built upon the foundation established by Storz and McLendon to create a variation called Boss Radio. This format began in California in early 1961 at KSTN (Stockton), then in 1962-63 at KYNO (Fresno), in 1964 at KGB (San Diego), and finally to KHJ Los Angelesmarker in May 1965, and was further adapted to stations across the western USA. It was later broadcast by American disc jockeys as a hybrid format on Swinging Radio England which broadcast from onboard a ship anchored off the coast of southern Englandmarker in international waters. At that time there were no commercial radio stations in the UK, and BBC radio offered only sporadic top 40 programming. Other noteworthy North American top 40 stations that used the "Drake" approach included KFRC in San Francisco; CKLW in Windsor, ON; WRKOmarker in Boston; WHBQmarker in Memphis, TN; WOLF in Syracuse, NY; and WOR-FM in New York City. Most listeners identified Boss Radio with less talk, shorter jingles and more music.

Mike Joseph and Hot Hits

Mike Joseph's "Hot Hits" stations of the late 1970s and early 1980s attempted to revitalize the format by refocusing listeners' attention on current, active "box-office" music. Thus, Hot Hits stations played only current hit songs - no oldies unless they were on current chart albums - in a fast, furious and repetitive fashion, with fast-talking personalities and loud, pounding jingles. In 1977, WTIC-FM in Hartford, CT, dropped its long-running classical format for Joseph's format as "96 Tics" and immediately became one of the top radio stations in the market. The first Joseph station to use the term "Hot Hits" on the air was WFBLmarker ("Fire 14", which played its top 14 hits in very tight rotation) in Syracuse, NY, in 1979. Then WCAU-FM in Philadelphia switched to Hot Hits as "98 Now" in the fall of 1981 and was instantly successful. Other major-market stations which adopted the Hot Hits format in the early 1980s included WBBM-FM Chicago, WHYT (now WDVDmarker) Detroit, WMAR-FM (now WWMX) Baltimore, KITS San Francisco, and WNVZmarker Norfolk.

Don Pierson

Don Pierson took the formats of Gordon McLendon, Boss Radio and PAMS jingles to the United Kingdom in the form of Wonderful Radio London, (A Pirate Radio Ship) and subsequently revolutionized the popular music format. On the 14th August 1967 The Marine Offences Act was introduced in the UK and the Pirate Stations were shut down.

The British Broadcasting Corporation where chosen by the UK Government to come up with a Station to replace the Pirates, And so in 1967 BBC Radio 1 started broadcasting having employed many of the DJ's from the Pirate stations (Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everett & John Peel Etc) and obtained re-sings of the PAM's Jingles.

In fact it was Tony Blackburn who played the first Pop record on Radio 1, The Move. Flowers In The Rain.

See also


  • Format in the UK specified by OFCOM - CHR/Pop - Contemporary / Current / Recurrent hits, may contain older music. [108593]
  • Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA, by Gilder, Eric. - "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003 ISBN 973-651-596-6
  • Music in the Air: America's Changing Tastes in Popular Music (1920-1980), by Eberley, P.K. New York, 1982.
  • Studying Popular Music, by Middleton, Richard. - Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990/2002. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  • Durkee, Rob. "American Top 40: The Countdown of the Century." Schriner Books, New York City, 1999.
  • Battistini, Pete, "American Top 40 with Casey Kasem The 1970s.", January 31, 2005. ISBN 1-4184-1070-5.
  • Douglas, Susan, "Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination," New York: Times Books, 1999.
  • Fong-Torres, Ben, "The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio", San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 1998.
  • MacFarland, David, "The Development of the Top 40 Radio Format", New York: Arno Press, 1979.
  • Fisher, Mark, "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation", New York: Random House, 2007.
  • Goulart, Elwood F. 'Woody', "The Mystique and Mass Persuasion: Bill Drake & Gene Chenault’s Rock and Roll Radio Programming[108594]", 2006.

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