Is Top 40 Radio Dead?

Radio has changed dramatically over the years and so have the formats of radio stations.  For years, the main formats of radio stations; the go to formats, were Oldies, CHR (Top 40), Adult Contemporary, Country, Rock, R & B, and Talk.  Radio stations would then narrow down these formats.  Rock vs Classic Rock, News Talk vs Sports Talk, etc.

Most of these formats still exist in some shape or form.  Sure, oldies formatted stations now consist of 70’s – 80’s music, but they are now called classic hit stations.  There is one format that is almost completely gone; which is very surprising based on its past success.  I am speaking of Top 40.  Technically it is now called CHR, (Contemporary Hit Music), but it is far from the true Top 40 formats of decades past.  In the 60’s and 70’s, Top 40 stations encompassed a lot of different types of music.  They played whatever the hits were and sometimes that meant playing Glen Campbell or Henry Mancini.  This began to change in the 1980’s but even then, Top 40 still had variety.  But the RIP to the Top 40 format really began around the mid 1990’s. 

There are several reasons for this.  One reason was the Top 40 chart itself.  Or, the Billboard Hot 100.  The Hot 100 was comprised of mainly airplay and singles sales since it began in 1958.  However, that method of tracking went away in the 90’s because no one was buying singles anymore.  There were no more 45’s.  The compact disc replaced vinyl, and CD singles were much more expensive than 45’s.  You might as well buy the whole CD.  Since the late 1960’s FM stations made the bands and artists bigger than the hits themselves, but this took on a whole other meaning in the 1990’s.  What this led to were more genre specific hit stations.  There were more genres to choose from too like grunge, hip hop and rap. 

Then came the technology which really put the stake in the Top 40 format’s heart.  CD’s were expensive and we had this little thing that got invented called the internet.  How did some people combat the price of CD’s?  File sharing, (AKA Napster). 

Which brings us to the REAL reason why Top 40 radio is dead.  Our smart phones are today’s transistor radios.  We can listen to just about any station we want in the world or we can curate our own.  We can borrow playlists from celebrities or friends.  You no longer are forced to just listen to what is popular.  You can now limit your listening to what is popular with you.  What this means is that we collectively no longer really know what the big hits are anymore.  Sure, there will always be a catchy tune we all know like Call Me Maybe, but we no longer know what the number one song is.  American Top 40 is still around, but Ryan Seacrest is not Casey Kasem.  And that is not a criticism of Ryan Seacrest, it is simply a different show.  I cannot remember hearing Ryan give you any chart history like Casey did.  And perhaps we don’t care.  But there is a sprinkle of sadness to this.  We used to share more.  Actually, we share more now, but in forms of things like memes.  There was a time when we talked about the big nights on TV the next day.  There are so many TV options, you rarely watch the same thing someone else did the night before.  You may watch Game of Thrones, just like your friends do.  However, chances are, you binged watched it a different weekend than they did.  The Superbowl is one of the few times we still are connected in that way.  Probably the only other recent example is American Idol in its heyday. 

So, RIP Top 40 radio.  I guess a song like You Light Up My Life will never be big again.

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