Radio format

A radio format or programming format (not to be confused with broadcast programming) describes the overall content broadcast on a radio station. In countries where radio spectrum use is legally regulated (such as by OFCOM in the UK), formats may have a legal status where stations are licensed to transmit only specific formats.

Radio formats are frequently employed as a marketing tool, and are subject to frequent change. 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.

List of formats

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
  • Rock
  • Soft rock


  • Americana
  • Bluegrass
  • 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


  • 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
  • Urban:
  • Urban contemporary (mostly rap, hip hop, soul, and contemporary R&B artists)
  • Urban adult contemporary (Urban AC) – R&B (both newer and older), soul and sometimes gospel music, without hip hop and rap
  • Urban oldies (sometimes called "classic soul", "R&B oldies", or "old school")
  • 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)


  • Big band
  • Blues
  • Jazz
  • Smooth jazz
  • Traditional pop music

    Easy Listening/New Age

  • Adult standards / nostalgia (pre-rock)
  • Beautiful music
  • Easy Listening
  • Middle of the road (MOR)


  • Folk music


  • Hispanic rhythmic
  • Ranchera
  • Regional Mexican (Banda, mariachi, norteño, etc.)
  • Rock en Español
  • Romántica (Spanish AC)
  • Spanish sub-formats:
  • Tejano music (Texas/Mexican music)
  • Also see: Ranchera, Regional Mexican, Romántica, and Tropical
  • Tropical (salsa, merengue, cumbia, etc.)
  • Urbano (reggaetón, Latin rap, etc.)


  • Cajun
  • Caribbean (reggae, soca, merengue, cumbia, salsa, etc.)
  • Indian music
  • Asian pop
  • Korean pop (K-pop)
  • Original Pilipino music
  • Polka
  • World music


  • Christian music
  • Christian rock
  • Contemporary Christian (which is also known as CCM)
  • Urban Gospel


  • Classical
  • Contemporary classical 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)


  • Eclectic
  • Freeform radio (DJ-selected)

    Spoken word formats

  • All-news radio
  • Children's
  • Christian radio
  • College radio
  • Comedy radio
  • Educational
  • Ethnic/International
  • Freeform/Experimental
  • 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)
  • News/Talk
  • Conservative talk radio
  • Progressive talk radio
  • Public talk radio
  • Hot talk/shock jocks
  • Weather radio


    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".