The Greatest Top 40 Stations Of All Time!

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Radio Ink recruited two of the best programming minds in the business, Lee Abrams and Randy Michaels, to answer this question: “What are the greatest Top 40 stations of all time?” Here’s how they stacked them up … and your lively debate, comments and disagreements on how they did.

Lee, in addition to answering the question, included what he considers to be the 15 characteristics of great Top 40 stations. Randy lists his top stations, and also details why each station he picked was great in the Top 40 format.

Radio Ink also held a three-week online poll and asked you which you believe are the best Top 40 stations of all time. Those results are at the end of this article. It was certainly an interesting assignment. Here’s how everyone stacked up against each other.

15 Characteristics of the Great Top 40 stations

Lee Abrams

By Lee Abrams

  1. Production. From the drama of news to the promos to the wild tracks, production was an art form that created a theater of the mind that manufactured sonic magic.
  2. The Bible of Music. From the printed playlist to the countdowns, station-generated chart positions defined what was popular in the city.
  3. 24/7 Personalities. There were shows, not shifts, and every daypart mattered. People still talk about Charlie Greer and Denison’s Men’s Clothier, on WABC at 3 a.m.
  4. Eccentricity. From crazed night DJs to whacked promotions — parents were appalled while the new mainstream ate it up.
  5. City Sound. Unlike the generic radio of today, these stations oozed the vibe of their city; they were soundtracks of the community.
  6. Anticipation. There was always something coming up.
  7. Swagger. A hard-to-define vibe that was all about confidence in everything they did.
  8. Well-Oiled Machines. Even the personality-driven stations were well-oiled machines that held the basics in high regard.
  9. Audience Respect. No bullshit. The stations delivered without needing to resort to tricks and promises.
  10. Completeness. From news and sports to sneak previews of Beatles songs, the stations were complete, with no need to tune away.
  11. Smarteners. The DJs turned you on to what was going on. The stations were hubs of local information.
  12. Graphics. They had visual identities that mirrored the on-air delivery.
  13. Technology. AM radio once sounded badass as resources were poured into signal integrity.
  14. New ideas. Every few years, “new ways” came into play. From Storz to Drake to Bennett, things evolved. It’s sad that radio is still executing a 40-year-old playbook these days.
  15. Selling new records. Especially in the mid-’60s, the great stations would make a new Herman’s Hermit record sound like the Second Coming.

And here are my picks for the 20 greatest Top 40 radio stations of all time:

  1. KHJ/Los Angeles
  2. WABC/New York
  3. WHTZ (Z100)/New York
  4. WLS/Chicago
  5. WHYI (Y100)/Miami
  6. KIIS/Los Angeles
  7. CKLW/Windsor-Detroit
  8. KCBQ/San Diego
  9. KFRC/San Francisco
  10. WFLZ/Tampa Bay
  11. KLIF/Dallas
  12. WQAM/Miami
  13. WKBW/Buffalo
  14. KFWB/Los Angeles
  15. WFIL/Philadelphia
  16. CHUM/Toronto
  17. Radio London/The North Sea
  18. WAYS/Charlotte
  19. WIXY/Cleveland
  20. WCFL/Chicago

And Now We Have Randy Michaels

This was a tough assignment. Top 20 based on what? One could consider ratings, longevity, originality, influence, or many other criteria. Some stations have been amazing at times and just awful at others. Many of the most spectacular Top 40 stations weren’t around that long. Many stations that are just average have lasted a long time. I based this list on originality and impact. These were stations worth traveling to hear. Getting it down to 20 was tough, unfair, and subjective. But here we go.

20. WTIX/New Orleans. WTIX spent its first days on the air reading the phone book to get attention. WDSU had number one afternoon show called The Top 20 on 1280. Todd Storz took the tight playlist formula from KOWH, doubled the number, and the first “Top 40” station was born. With only 250 watts way up at 1450kHz, WTIX debuted with a 50 share.

19. WKVQ (15Q)/Knoxville. It was a crazy idea. In the mid-’70s, Knoxville had a three-way AM Top 40 battle between WKGN, WNOX, and WRJZ going, while WOKI was playing the hits, sort of, on FM. A doctor’s son financed the killer Top 40 15Q until the money ran out. Suitcase Simpson, Chuck “Boo” Baron, Eddie Beacon the Swingin’ Deacon, and others have never sounded better. But the signal was awful, the staff was expensive, and 15Q failed quickly. It was worth driving 500 miles each way to hear live. I did.

18. KBOX/Dallas. Yes, I know KLIF was the first polished Top 40 station and the big station in Dallas. But KBOX was pretty amazing for having only 500 watts at night at 1480. John Box gave Gordon McLendon fits and forced KLIF to be even better. KBOX gave us Dan Ingram, Bill Ward, and many others. KBOX and the Balaban stations trained Stan Kaplan. And that news intro: With Morse code beeping in the background and plenty of slapback echo, the news opened with “From around the universe, around the world, around the nation, around Texas, around Dallas, and around the corner from your house, this is K-B-O-X news.”

17. WVAQ/Morgantown, WV. Morgantown? Have you heard it? This station has a major-market sound in a small market. WVAQ is a multiple Marconi Award winner for good reason: It sounds great. Longtime morning man Lacy Neff passing was big news last June. WVAQ is a giant in North Central West Virginia. It could compete anywhere.

16. KNUZ/Houston. With just 250 watts on 1230, KNUZ was the longtime market leader in Houston. Dave Morris was the owner/morning man. When Gordon McLendon signed on KILT with 5,000 watts down at 610, it should have been endgame, but KNUZ bested KILT for a long time. Gordon McLendon considered Dave Morris his toughest competitor.

15. WMCA/New York. Yes, WABC had more listeners and more attention. WABC was good but rarely great. WABC had 10 times more power. In the mid- and late ’60s WMCA soundly beat WABC, where the signals weren’t even close. WABC “won” by dominating the areas WMCA didn’t reach, and by raiding WMCA for talent and ideas.

14. WKTQ (13Q)/Pittsburgh. They were late in the AM game. They didn’t last long, but they were awesome. KQV had the heritage and was owned by a company that knew something about Top 40, so 13Q was instant roadkill. Buzz Bennett showing up the first day with a German shepherd — and a sledgehammer to knock the NBC logo off the lobby wall — set the tone.

13. WAKY/Lousiville. WGRC was purchased by Gordon McLendon and went Top 40 in 1958, debuting by playing “Purple People Eater” for a week. The FCC wasn’t amused, but the public was. With Johnny Randolph as PD, WAKY played one black and one country record every quarter hour. If that sounds crazy, look at the ratings. The “WAKY” shout was created by Johnny and a group of girls he met out just after the bars closed. (That’s 3 a.m. in Louisville. It was overdubbed several times. That shout is still in use at 620 AM and 103.5 FM, which use the WAKY calls today.)

12. WLS/Chicago. I like edgy Top 40 stations, and that WLS was not. WCFL was occasionally a better station. WLS was vanilla in most respects, but it was consistently excellent. That 50,000-watt night signal put everything east of the Rockies in earshot at night. WLS was the most influential station in the nation in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I know a PD in Texas who couldn’t afford research, so he just listened to WLS to see what to play. Kids all over the Midwest left their radios on 890, turned them on after school, and waited for darkness.

11. WKBW/Buffalo. WKBW went Top 40 in 1958 by stealing the PD and airstaff from WBNY, which was number one with only 250 watts. The studios were in a former carriage house with a false front to make it look taller and a mirror at the end of the long single hallway to make it look bigger when you walked in. Everything about KB was show business. When everyone in Top 40 was going to short jingles and less talk, KB hired big talent, played long jingles, and gave the jocks all the time they wanted if what they said was compelling. The equipment was ancient. All of that amazing talent spoke into a vintage RCA mic and spun records on 16-inch transcription tables, right into the 1970s. KB proved that great talent, not great equipment, make great radio.

10. WAYS/Charlotte. Stan and Sis Kaplan were fierce competitors. Stan was a sales animal, but like McLendon, Kaplan knew that advertisers spent money to reach listeners, not the other way around. Stan invested in talent and promotion. He stole and enhanced McLendon’s treasure hunts and other promotions and added a crazy outrageousness that hasn’t happened since, except maybe for the Power Pig, which owes a lot to the Kaplans. Listen to any aircheck from any era of Kaplan ownership — Jack Gale, Robert Murphy, Boo Baron, or Jay Thomas. It will be amazing.

9. KLIF/Dallas. Todd Storz had the first Top 40 station. Gordon McLendon made it theater. Top talent, memorable promotions, attention-getting advertising, over-the-top production, and a relentless focus on the listener, not the advertiser, made the McLendon stations ratings juggernauts. KLIF was the first and best. The McLendon format memos remain some of the best how-to handbooks for radio. With only a 1,000-watt night signal, KLIF routinely clocked more listeners than all other Dallas-Ft. Worth stations combined. Storz and McLendon traded PDs, air talent, and promotion ideas. Bill Drake and others refined it, but Top 40 was the child of Storz and McLendon.

8. WAPE/Jacksonville. The Brennans’ engineering genius and home-built transmitter pumped 50,000 daytime watts from Daytona to the North Carolina beaches. It was an awesome signal, but somehow they couldn’t get that hum out of the transmitter. WAPE introduced a lot of the south to Carolina Beach music. After it sold to Stan and Sis Kaplan, WAPE was just amazing. This is where the Greaseman was at his best. “Don’t get screwed, get WAPE’d!”

7. WHTZ (Z100)/New York. In 1983, right after NBC paid six figures to researchers to learn that there was absolutely no hole for Top 40 in New York, Milt Maltz paid $8.3 million for an FM in Newark that played show tunes, figured out how to move it to Empire, brought in a redneck morning man and PD (Scott Shannon, who was so not New York and went “worst to first”). History-making in so many ways, and still great today.

6. KFRC/San Francisco. Bill Drake’s KHJ was amazing and should probably be on this list. His KFRC was better. Edgier. Better production. Jocks with a bit more rope. It was the Top 40 station in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. And it had Dr. Don Rose.

5. WJET/Erie, PA. WJET dominated Erie as a daytimer on 1570 with 250 watts. After moving to 1400, still at low power, no one could touch them, and everyone tried. The founder and owner, Myron Jones, built the building and wired the studios himself. His wife did the music. He hired major-market talent and they stayed. Forever. No station was better about promoting, playing the hits, and focusing on the community. Many of the big AM Top 40 stations had FM stations. None of the big-market owners did the smart thing and moved to FM in the ’70s. Myron did, and because he had a TV station, he had to sell the AM to do it. At the time, the AM was still number one! WJET-FM debuted at number one. Pretty remarkable.

4. KCBQ/San Diego. Amazing talent, awesome production, revolutionary promotions. “The Last Contest” was born here. This is the station all of the “Super Q” imitators wanted to be. Great call letters, too. Listening to Happy Hare or Shotgun Tom or Charlie and Harrigan, you wouldn’t know the calls originally stood for “CBS Quality.”

3. CKLW/Windsor-Detroit. As “Radio 8-0” CKLW spent the early ’60s as a crappy Top 40 well behind WKNR and WXYZ. It exploded in 1967 with the Drake format. No one, ever, anywhere, did the basics better than the Big 8. With separate board ops for the jocks and the newsroom, intro times to the quarter second, including commercials, no station was ever tighter. The Drake stations all had “Kanner Boxes,” but Ed Butterbaugh’s setup, 50,000 watts, and lax Canadian rules on positive modulation made CKLW jump out of radios in a dozen U.S. markets all day long, and made the programming sound even better. The glory days of CKLW were only five years long, but the Big 8’s influence reverberates today.

2. WYHY (Y107)/Nashville. Maybe I’m biased, but it’s my list. This is my favorite Top 40. Marc Chase made more noise at WFLZ and WEBN, but this was his best work. Marc took “The Outrageous FM” to a 17 share, 500,000 cume in a market of less than a million at the time. The Power Pig was more outrageous, but Y107 was a better station. When Metro Traffic came to Nashville, Marc put a Dumpster in the station parking lot and asked listeners to donate scrap metal so Y107 could buy a plane. That’s how a Top 40 station owned the traffic image. Scott Shannon and other PDs stole from Y107 every time they came to Film House to cut a TV spot. “Lock it in and rip the knob off.”

1. KIIS/Los Angeles. Other stations have been more outrageous, more groundbreaking, or more entertaining, but KIIS is the most influential Top 40 station. Chuck Blore used the name on the AM, 1150: KIIS=K115. But it’s been copied around the world just because it’s KIIS/Los Angeles. Few stations have been able to achieve consistent success in ratings, and the conversion of ratings to revenue and cash flow, like KIIS. None in major markets. KHJ lasted about 10 years. KIIS is going on 40.

I apologize to all those I left out.

Readers’ Top 10 Top 40s.
We held a three-week online poll asking readers what they think are or were the best Top 40s, and here are the results:

  1. CKLW/Windsor-Detroit
  2. WKBW/Buffalo
  3. KHJ/Los Angeles
  4. WLS/Chicago
  5. WABC/New York
  6. KFRC/San Francisco
  7. WING/Dayton, OH
  8. KLIF/Dallas
  9. KFMB (B100)/San Diego
  10. WFIL/Philadelphia

127 COMMENTS

  1. I think one of the elements that is missing today is competition, radio wars. It’s hard to fight for supremacy when you own the competition.

  2. These are ALL good stations..the ones listed and the ones that aren’t. Johnny Holiday on WHK was awesome as well as when he was on 250 watt WRVM in Rochester in the fifties. They were king of radio, nevermind that they played beautiful music on Sundays..and had to sign off at sunset. They lost the crown when WBBF went full time Top 40. Everyone here has had the luxury of living through some of the best radio ever. Well vetted comments like Randy and Lee are so welcome

  3. As a latecomer (1976) to the game, but well aware of the history, the key here is knowing and targeting your market, tailoring everything and everyone to it. Taking a chance on a record on-air from time to time and listening to their feedback, not just auditorium testing. The men who did it both wanted to make lots of money but also great radio. That rarely exists anymore. Automation, consolidation and syndication killed the small-and-medium-market ‘farm system’ that fed those larger-market stations. as well as creating the mess that radio is now. I remember when ABC proposed Superadio in 1981, putting jocks from WABC, WLS and KQV on your small-town station. Didn’t happen, but the writing was on the wall. Most every market had two or three pretty good Top-40’s back then; lucky if you can find one now.

  4. How can we not mention the stations owned and operated by the late Todd Storz which basically invented the Top 40 Format. WHB and KXOK were among his best. Both were top rated when AM Radio was King.

    • The Storz stations ruled for many years. Personally, I thought WQAM was the best and is on my list, but that’s not to take anything away from KXOK, WHB, KOMA, KOWH, WTIX WDGY

  5. A further thought on this string: As kids growing up in Welland, Ontario, most of the radio we listened to was from Buffalo. (Welland was kind of a suburb of Buffalo, just not as close as Tonawanda was.) There were some outstanding stations and many of the personalities became legends. One of those in the mid ’50s was George “The Hound” Lorenz at night on WKBW. Never missed him, as he made R & B come alive.
    That was the prelude…
    It’s fitting that ‘KB is on both of these lists. It really started in 1958 with Perry Allen, Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, Art Roberts and Dick Biondi. They took over…along with the likes of Tommy Shannon, the still-to-come Dan Neaverth, Joey Reynolds and so many others. The crew that made Pappy Smith famous. How’s that for some entertaining teachers?!

  6. WMEX Boston should be on this list and one minor market station that sounded and programmed like a major market WAVZ New Haven, CT

  7. Thanks Randy for clarifying the Randy Michaels on WJET. Also thanks for mentioning WROV in Roanoke. It was one of the several station whose doors I passed through. It was one of the stations that the great “Wolfman Jack did his show from. He also did a live show from the afored mentioned WGR in Buffalo. I am fortunate enough to have an aircheck of that broadcast. The story of Wolfman’s visit to WROV can be found under “History of Roanoke Radio” then click on WROV. K92 was mentioned and they picked up the number one spot a few years after they went on the air in 1980, dethroning WROV.

    • I love that people actually thought that Wolfman was LIVE on WGR. We had some pretty good board ops who could incorporate the Wolfman’s customs. The BEST show came out of 55KRC in Cincinnati. . . Rockin’ Ron Schumacher was the board op-and when Wolfman answered the phone he’d ask: “Do you know the difference between meat and fish?”. . .

  8. I’ll never forget the zany humor of Gary Owens and Don MacKinnon on KEWB. Monterey’s location was perfect, radio-wise: San Francisco all day, L.A. at night, including Wolfman Jack on The Mighty 1090 XERB.

  9. I’m surprised nobody’s talking about CHUM or CFTR … and God bless the late Tom Rivers, one of the best jocks ever … in Toronto, at the “Big 8” Windsor/Detroit, or anywhere! CKLW is definitely #1, and the most influential Top 40 of all time (thanks to Rosie). As a kid I surfed the dial nightly from my Guelph Ontario backyard on one of the first 6 transistor Sony battery radios … from Dick Summer on WBZ Boston to Cousin Brucie at WABC NYC, from Quixie in Dixie to WOWO Ft.Wayne to WLS & WCFL Chicago. I was also privileged to catch CHUM, ‘TR, CKEY, and CKOC during their hayday(s). They were as good as anything, anywhere. “Frank Brodie” (CKLW) was incredible on the air in ANY format, as were most of the jocks from the true Top 40 era. Years later, I hired him as Mike Marshall from an AOR station in Toronto to do Smooth Jazz. Talk about versatility!) And, I confess to plagiarizing “W-C-F-L of-a-Town…CHI-CA-GO” for the rebranding of CKSL London Ontario in the mid 70s. “C-K-S-L of-a-Town…LONNN-DONNN!!!” ran top of every hour. I can still hear Roger Klein’s growling delivery. It was just too great a line not to steal.
    Jim Craig – Professor, Broadcast Studies
    Seneca College School of Media – Toronto Canada

    • Nice comments, Jim. Much appreciated. Had a lot of fun working at ‘TR, too, and enjoyed doing Smooth Jazz. Still have a bunch of it on my iPad!

  10. Would Randy Michaels be the same who worked afternoons on WJET? I lived in Erie at that time and listened to Jet 14 and Randy Michaels, along with Frank Martin, Ronnie G (Seggi), Jim Conners, Jack O’Brien, and Al Knight. Jet was truly a phenominal station.

    • No, but I was “named” for him. Larry Anderson, the PD at WGR Buffalo, listened to WJET driving back and forth to see family in Ohio. He liked the name and had a jingle cut for WGR. When I started at WGR as a part timer, that became my new name. Many stations saved money on jingles by getting names cut during a session or by recycling house names.

      Randy Michaels

  11. And lets not forget WHK in Cleveland who owned that City from 1959 to 1964 blowing every other station away. Mad Daddy Pete Myers, Johnny Holliday, Scott Burton, Pat Fitzgerald, Johnny Walters, Ron Riley, Carl Reese and Keith Morris, what a great air staff. Then there was KYA in San Francisco with Bobby Mitchell and Tom Donohue, Gene Nelson, Tony Big, ed Hider and Johnny Holliday. Another great station that should have made the list.

  12. Radio Ink sure hit a LIVE WIRE here didn’t they! The comments pour in, what a fun read, and Tribute to how good it all was. Amen.

  13. Thank you RadioInk for opening the doors to a grudge match of passionate RADIO people. The best part of these 3 lists is bringing back the memories of when RADIO was competitive, creative, and most of all FUN. My decades of respect for Lee Abrams has increased thanks to his “15 Characteristics of the Great Top 40 stations” and his selections are 85% perfect. And the fired-up responses further support why great RADIO existed.

    We should celebrate the greatness. Especially those of us who contributed directly as jocks, PDs, GMs, Promotions, Sales, Engineering, and god love the Traffic departments.
    “C’mon people now,
    Smile on your brother”

    • Bobby— thanks for your kind comments. You won’t remember but at the 1969 Billboard convention, you were PD of KSTT and I asked you a bunch of questions. You patiently answered them for this 17 year old radio freak.

  14. I agree with Steve above that WSGN was a great station under PD Jim Tabor.

    I also agree with Randy Michaels that KFRC overall became a better station than KHJ for the reasons he mentioned. However, I likewise agree with Lee that KHJ should be at or near the top of the list. The reason is KHJ, Drake’s first RKO project, was huge news and sent Top 40 radio on a new trajectory that would eventually affect virtually every station in the format. I do want to mention that Ron Jacobs had more to do with the sound of KHJ than he gets credit for. Plus, KHJ had The Real Don Steele, who made magic every day being a larger-than-life and unique personality within the Drake constraints.

  15. I like the mention of Big WAYS and WTIX as I lived in those cities and I used to hear WAPE. One other station I listened to was WSGA in Savannah, GA. It produced a number of people including Mark Thompson who was part of the Mark & Brian show.

  16. I’m surprised no one mentioned WQXI Atlanta. From 1966- thru 1976 they were a huge Atlanta powerhouse even with their highly directional 1KW at night at 790. I always thought of them as the WABC of the South…. Quixie in Dixie. They were tight, bright, slight reverb and very punchy like WABC. Look at the Superstar talent that went thru there – Paul Drew, Dr. Don Rose, Tony Taylor, Big Ron, Randy Robbins, Scott Shannon, John Leader, Gary Mckee and so many more. WQXI was promotionally crazy at times (Rambling Raft Race) and very localized to the market musically. They were even the first station to carry the Atlanta Falcons when the team started in 1967. Yes, football on Top 40 worked for them with the excitement of a new team in town. No doubt WQXI held off FM competition for years after the city grew beyond its signal.

  17. Late 1967…As Paul Drew gave me my first look at the Big 8 control room, Tom Shannon was introducing Glen Campbell’s By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I still carry a Kennedy half-dollar I got in some change our first night in Windsor, a constant reminder of the magic, good times and wonderful people we shared through most of 1972. Hell, I even got to work for Les Garland for a day years later during the Return of The Million Dollar Weekend!
    Thanks to all the fans who voted CKLW #1.
    Mike Marshall (Frank Brodie) Burlington, ON

    • Great to see you comments Mike. Well said. I can still hear those dulcet tones of yours.
      Bobby Rich, you nailed it.
      Thank you Radio Ink for this amazing trip down memory lane.
      Jim Jackson

    • Hi there! Listed Mike Marshall as one of, if not THE Smoothest jock ever. Dave Charles once called me smooth but I couldn’t hold a candle to MM!

    • Hi Mike (Frank Brodie). CKLW definitely was THEE number one station in North America and Canada. Some of the greatest talent came through Detroit – Toledo Ohio. CK had yourself Mike (did you know that?), Dave Shaffer, Big Jim (Davis) Edwards, Brother Bill Gable, Charlie Obrien,” The morning mouth” Gary Burbank, Pat Holiday who could talk faster than a bullet, the smooth sounding Johnny Williams, Scott Miller, Ted “The Bear” Richards, Pat St John, Billy Mack, Ric Allen, and a guy who had a great voice Jim Jackson (below). And let us not forget the news department which was something to be reckoned with. Don Patrick, Dick Smythe, Randall Carlisle, Grant Hudson and the chief himself Byron McGregor all grabbed your attention with their excellent delivery and news writing.

      Not mentioned but it should be was WHND and the talents of Richard D haase, Boogie Brian, Jon Ray, Stew Wilkins, et.al. and the WKNR ”Keener 13” crew.

      Toledo also had a lot of great talent. Bob Martz was probably one of the most funny guys along with the likes of John Garry, Larry Obrien, Bob Kelly, Don Williams (and of course myself Rick Allen, I just had to toot my own horn didn’t I? LOL) at WTOD. And over at the Lou Dickey flagship station WOHO, The late Swingin (Frank) Sweeny, Bobby Rich, Ben Gall, Tom Dean, Jungle Jim Williams, Craig Edwards, Irwin Young, Peter Trip, Gary Calvert, Earl Richards (me again), Gene Wurley, E. Alvin Davis, The“ Mojoman” Sid Grubb, Buddy Carr, Sir Bernard J Quayle, Sam Holman, Don Armstrong, Ken R Deutch. To coin a sound alike phrase from the late Bill Drake, “AND THE TALENT JUST KEPT ON COMIN.”
      As far as CKLW goes I think every jock I knew all tried to emulate the great sound of the Big 8 jocks. And of course this is just my opinion on the greatest talent in the Motor and Glass Cities.

      • Hi Rick, you are right about other stations and jocks wanting to sound like CKLW, The Big 8. I know, because I was just cutting my teeth in Toledo radio beginning in 1973. EVERYONE wanted to be like you guys, including me who at the time had a lot to learn. CKLW was high on a pedestal in those days and people admired it. So today I credit you guys and of course others back then, who made a shy teenage boy grab on to something called radio, and go for the ride of his life! BTW, I was honored that I got to meet you at the CKLW Fifty Year celebration in Detroit in july. What a fun night!

  18. Thank you Randy Michaels for the 102 WVAQ mention! We are very proud of what WVAQ has meant to West Virginia over the years. I grew up listening to KXOK in St. Louis during the daytime hours (Johnny Rabbit) – and WLS at night.

  19. WBZ, WPTR, WRKO, WMEX..in the ’60 led the way in our part of NE for those of us just coming in to the business. WABC drove us home from Ft. Dix when we signed out on pass at midnight. Bruce Bradley at WBZ told me at a record hop in 1963 NOT to go into Radio. His advice was 3 years too late. In ’67 we got an advanced copy of “Sgt Pepper” at little old WKBK in Keene, NH…before WABC (I was told)..that’s when turning on mike was fun. Generic syndication and voice-tracking leave little room for localized fun and connection and way fewer role models for the next generation of announcers.

  20. I wouldn’t leave out KEWB Oakland, where such notables as The Real Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, and Casey Kasem played DJ before any of them became nationally known. Chuck Blore’s clever contests, tight production, and a great pick of music made KEWB one of the very best Top 40 stations.

    • KYA was also a great station with Emperor Gene Nelson, Tom Donahue, and many others. I think one of the elements that is missing today was competition, radio wars. It’s hard to fight for supremacy when you own the competition.

  21. There were many good radio stations all over the USA radio map, like for me KACY, Ventura, KIST, Santa Barbara, KMBY Monterey, KDON Salinas. all Air Talent/Music Driven Top-40s , and oh yeah all live people 24/7, when radio was fun to do and to listen to.

  22. WROV in Roanoke deserves a mention… On the market for close to five years with more listeners than all other Roanoke stations … Bert Levine, who owned the station, believed very much in developing personalities without exception all the personalities on the station became major celebrities in Western Virginia. The station was 1000kw days 250 nights but still was credited by many of the major record labels as being great market for breaking new artists and new singles

    • I agree that Burt Levine created magic in that quonset hut! WROV was the lowest powered full time station in the market and often beat all other stations combined. This was a tough assignment because so many great stations had to be left out. WROV could have easily made the cut. Like I said this was a tough assignment.

  23. Its been fun reading everyones passions for their picks for the best Top 40 Station. Just goes to show ya how good radio was when it was competitive. Especially before I Heart and Cumulus took over. Boy what trash we have now.

  24. The greatest Top 40 station of all time? Sorry, John ‘Records’ Landecker, but Chicago’s WCFL wins this one. Not long after you came on board in early 1972, WLS reduced its published chart to a “Big 8 + 9” playlist. While I was a devoted listener of the Big 89 for years before, that’s when the (Top 40?) station lost me.

    Behind “Production” on Lee Abrams’ characteristics list of great Top 40 stations, number two is “The Bible of Music.” From 1965 until its demise in 1976, WCFL never let go of a Top 40 playlist/format. And looking at the remaining characteristics, “Big 10” had it all.

    The greatest Top 40 station of all time? Super ‘CFL!!

    • Plus they had “Uncle Lar”…they could not lose…even with the bad signal…that “supermod” was flamethrower quality!

  25. Lets also at least have some hat tips toward the unmentioned above: WKIX in Raleigh (with Pat Patterson and other huge talents, and huge numbers too), WCOG in Greensboro, WTOB and WAIR in Winston-Salem, WIBG and WFIL in Philly, WMEX in Boston, WOLF in Syracuse, WPTR in Albany, WQXI in Atlanta, WQAM in Miami, XERB (Wolfman era) in Tijuana/San Diego/Coastal CA), WIL in St. Louis, KOMA in Oklahoma City (as big with skywave in the West as WKBW was in the East), KAAY in Little Rock (another skywave monster) WXYZ in Detroit, CKEY in Toronto, WMID in Atlantic City, WINS and WMGM in New York (which lost to WMCA and WABC, but still), WAPE (The Big Ape) in Jacksonville and the coast up to Hatteras, KFWB and KRLA in Los Angeles, KYNO in Fresto, KFRC and KSFO in San Francisco, KIMN in Denver, KLIF in Dallas, WSAI in Cincinnati, WING in Dayton, WITH in Baltimore, WEAM and WPGC in DC… Okay, I’ll stop there.

    • Doc… thanks for the shout out to Drake/Chenalt’s 13KYNO, in Fresno, where so many radio (and television) notables passed through. As an engineer, I was lucky enough to work along side many of them, and even heard Humble Harve and Bill Drake cutting IDs and voice-overs in the early 70s. Gene Chenalt was a gentleman who was always good to me. KYNO deserved the inclusion, Doc…

      • I remember visiting my cousins in Dinuba as a teen in the summer of ’63. KYNO was THE station for them, and they actually enjoyed hearing the station bid farewell to outlying towns at sunset, when the station dropped from 5kw to 1kw (same pattern, though). They’d say “Goodbye, Dinuba, goodbye Orange Cove…” Then my cousins would tune in KONG/1400 from Visalia, or surf the iffy skywaves of KRLA, KFWB, KFRC and or other relative weaklings, since the West Coast at the time lacked a Top 40 flamethrower such as the Midwest, prairie and East enjoyed with the likes of WLS, WABC, KAAY and KOMA. I do remember, however, getting WLS on my Zenith Royal 400 7-transistor radio on the floor of Yosemite Valley that same summer, though. No way that can happen today, with so many other signals on every formerly clear channel.

        Others from that same summer (as we were on a long road trip from our home New Jersey, where WABC’s tower stood outside my bedroom window): KMEN in San Bernardino and KCBQ in San Diego.

        • No one has said anything about the greatest radio promo of all time…in my humble opinion… that would be Jack McCoy’s “The Last Contest!” Which I heard on the also great KCBQ in San Diego with Mason Dixon!

  26. Holy shit! I made two of them. Who knew?

    I’d like to thank Randy. Lee and… my mom.

    I cannot think of two greater, more knowledgeable guys one could ask to create this list (those who are gnashing their teeth and should have been included… damn, dudes). The editorial staff at “Radio Ink” came up with a great story and executed it well. (OBW, I was there too!).

  27. Had the joy of being an RKO national sales rep for several of these outstanding radio stations: KHJ, KFRC, CKLW. WRKO, KLIF, KCBQ. Even got to bring Les Garland a 6 pack of Pearl Beer in my suitcase. Didn’t lose a single bottle in flight from DFW to SF. Great fun and memories.

  28. I listened to CKLW from the early 60’s to the mid-70’s and it is a shame that more people could not have experienced the glory of an astounding presentation radio. Even though they had such a large audience with the 50,000watt tower. The number one selection by the fan picks proves that the entire country would have benefited.

    • CKLW in late 60s and early 70s was like listening to a non-stop party. I was in college at the time and walking down the hall of the dorm all you heard was the Big 8 in Bowling Green, Ohio

    • Storz didn’t own KOIL. As noted by one of the experts, it was KOWH. He had 60 shares with a 500- watt daytimer. Only then did KOIL take notice and knocked off the daytimer with the larger 5kw day/night signal. KOWH went off to other call letters and other formats. Old timers in Omaha still remember KOWH.

  29. My brother Lacy Neff loved what he did and was very very proud of his station and co workers. Thank you for still give g praise to him.

    • Marlene I am so sad to hear that Lacy is no longer with us. I sent him an audition tape about 20 years ago. got a reply that he would love to have hired me but he needed someone who lived locally and could fill in on short notice. I completely understood but I was so happy to have heard back from him and that he liked my work. he was a great talent and a class act! I hope he and his legacy will never be forgotten…

  30. You can thank Rose Trombly for a great deal of CKLW’s success. As the song says tear open my shirt to show Rosie on my chest.

  31. Your leaving KJR Seattle out of the top 20 is typical of how poor that list is. Great stations produced great stars and huge ratings. KJR gave the industry Larry Lujack, Kevin Metheny. Mike Phillps, Jerry Kay, Lan Roberts, and many more, plus grabbing as much as 35% of all radio listening in the nations 13th largest market. It held the number one position from 1960 until 1977. Lets see here, who did WAYS Charlotte create that we remember? What about Kimn in Denver? KISN in Portland? KILT in Houston? and many others that would have put stations on Lee Abrahm’s “Those that I liked” list too shame. Radio INK. reconsider your sources. Your input sucks!

    • Amen! I can’t believe the PNW was left off of everybody’s “list”. Seattle and Portland had great radio in the Top-40 days. Even Hot AC, or Uptempo MOR stations like KING and KGW were top notch.

    • I listen to the Crusin’ 1966 album almost religiously. Favorite part is the commercial for the Barracuda (or Baccaruda as the Plymouth man said).

  32. In the mid 7Os WLS was the greatest top 40 radio station of all time. The personality line up was one heavy hitter after another. Including two that are in The National Radio Hall Of Fame. It was a PERSONALITY driven format. With all do respect KHJ, KFRC, CKLW. WRKO were all slices from the Bill Drake pie. There was no mold for WLS.

    • Absolutely correct.

      But let’s be honest, there were TONS of great Top 40 stations and narrowing it down to 10 or 20- or 40- is nearly impossible because of what appeals to the one making the choices. For me, WLS’s personality driven approach was magic. For others, the hyper-high energy and tight production of talents like JoJo Kincaid was the Holy Grail.

      Side note- thanks to Randy Michaels for seeing what I saw- that great radio isn’t necessarily only in great cities.

  33. This list is bull–it. KY-102, KC . Really. WHB710. The station which invented Top Forty. Sorry no credibility.

    • Storz owned WHB but invented the format at KOWH. Only later was the format extended to WHB and the other Storz stations in larger markets. I’d say ask Dick Fatherley but he’s gone now. You might turn up some of his historical pieces online.

      • Dick Fatherly was my first source for the story that WTIX, then on 1450, was the first station to use the phrase “Top-40”. I’ve had this confirmed by others since. Dick worked weekends at WDAF Kansas City when I was Ops Manager there in 1977. His stories were fascinating especially told in that booming authoritative voice. KOWH was the original Storz station in Omaha, where Todd’s dad brewed “Storz Beer”, and KOWH was the first to focus on a tight list of the most popular songs, but KOWH leaned towards MOR and didn’t really target a young audience. According to Dick, the phrase “Top 40” was coined in New Orleans.

        • I worked in Trenton, MO in ’78 and thought that WDAF 61 Country was great Top 40 radio and how good country radio could be programmed.

    • KY102 was AOR not Top-40. WHB was an early top 40 station but “The World’s Happiest Broadcasters” were not the first. Todd Storz introduced a tight pop music format on KOWH in 1953. Later that year he bought WTIX and it was there that the phrase “Top 40” was first introduced. WHB was added in 1954. WDGY and WQAM were purchased in 1956, KOMA in 1958 and KXOK in 1960.

  34. WRKO-FM/98.5 (“R-KO, The Shy But Friendly Robot”) should get some honorable mention. It pre-dated WRKO (“Now 6-8-0”) on October 12th, 1966. It put rock and roll on the FM map in Boston and eventually made WRKO/680 the legendary Top 40 rocker in Boston beginning in March of ’67.

  35. Seeing Lee’s List recognizing Big WAYS as a Top 20 Station and Randy Michaels actually listing 15Q, WAYS, and the Funky Monkey– WAPE, gave me some warm fuzzies…
    None of the 15Q guys Michaels mentions, were there when the station signed-on… Dr. Steve (Bridgewater) West am drive, Ron Baptist midday, Shot Bob Kelly pm drive, Bro Mick Rizzo 6-10, Kid Curry did 10-2a…
    Baptist hired me and as soon as they realized they were over budget– they told him to let me go… I was ‘boned’ since I’d just got into an apartment, furniture, utilities… He waited til Sat Nite to drop it on me…
    Alan Sneed & Gary Adkins had my back– Monday morning they got me to Vic Rumore “Jim Bob”, who was GM at KGN and their consultant, ‘Mr.Green’– Kent Burkhart… I was on the air Monday Nite… I stayed there until Big WAYS came a calling… which is another story for another time…

  36. Jerry Clifton blazed a huge trail when he turned WXLO FM into 99x. He outgunned WABC within a year and made history for bringing FM into the 20th century.

  37. How could this survey overlook two important Philadelphia stations: WIBG- an early giant from the late 50’s thru mid 60’s at a time when the local American Bandstand set the tone of the nation. WIBBAGE had personalities, good on-air production and a remarkable audience share; WFIL came along in 1965 and had the best example of tight production and format anywhere. Two very prominent stations in the TOP 40 history book!

  38. Randy’s list is more insightful, but both of them left out WFIL, which some felt at the time was the best Top 40 station in the U.S. (around 1968-1970). Also, I can’t believe that Lee left off WMCA and WTIX, two of the greatest Top 40 stations ever. Lee felt WABC was the greatest Top 40 station, but I think they were way out-programmed by WMCA. WMCA killed WABC in the ratings from 1963-1965.

    • I had WFIL at #15. WTIX was a great station, but I felt WQAM was a better example of Storz. If I could go to 30, TIX and MCA WOUKD certainly be in the mix. Thanks

      • Ah, but Randy included the great WAPE!! Ya just can’t ignore a station that spawned Jay Thomas, The Greaseman, and Hoyle Dempsey, as well as having a swimming pool where you could dive in OUTSIDE and surface INSIDE in the lobby! Lol! Ps. Hope you’re doing well, Lee!

      • WMCA outgunned WABC and WINS – both with terrific signals. They did the impossible and stayed there for years, despite the signal handicap. WABC won where they could – no WMCA competition. That’s a fact. No dispute. That’s the real story – so if WABC was great, WMCA was much more.

        • What’s easy to forget (especially if all the history happened before one’s time) is that top 40 stations had strong loyalties akin to ball teams. WABC was the Yankees of the group. WMCA was more like the Dodgers: deeply loved inside the boroughs. (I still haven’t forgiven the Dodgers for leaving.) As for signals, WINS was 50kw,but with short towers and a headlight-narrow beam across the city. It was nowhere upstate or on the Jersey Shore. WMCA, with its broader signal pattern and low dial position, covered the Monmouth and northern Ocean County beaches quite well, despite being only 5kw. WMGM had a better signal (broader pattern, full-size half-wave towers with 50kw) than either WMCA or WINS, and a good sound too, but I guess Storer didn’t feel like competing when they bought the station and turned it back to WHN in ’61. Still, WMGM had its legends, most notably Peter Tripp. So, a small hat tip to WMGM as well.

      • And I agree that WQAM was a better example of the Storz sound. You could say the same about WHB and KXOK. I listed WTIX because they were the very first “Top 40”. How could you leave that out?

  39. I remember in the late 50’s and rarly 60’s living in northern Illinois, we always tried to tune in to WBZ Boston that broadcast just a little higher on the dial than WLS in Chicago! They had a very strong signal at night and played all the latest hits!!

  40. Nobody, and I mean nobody, listened to KLIF in Fort Worth. Dallas was a separate media market back then and rightly so, as the enmity between the two cities was at its peak when Gordon McLendon was working his magic at KLIF.

    KFJZ 1270 was Fort Worth’s Top 40 station, headlined by Marky Baby, later known as Mark Stevens of the Stevens & Pruitt morning show on KFJZ-FM (“Z-97”) which morphed into The Eagle (KEGL) on the same frequency. It deserves mention here.

    • Also, Randy Brown, who commented just before me, is right. KNUS was a big deal when FM became commercially viable.

    • The original KLIF night signal was only 1kw. They got 60 shares in Dallas with that signal. From a site south of Dallas they beamed north. The later 5kw night site used 12 towers to put a lobe over Dallas that also covered the mid cities and just reached Ft Worth. Coverage to the north was lost, and unfortunately, Dallas grew to the north. McClendon may have guessed wrong. On the other had he sold the station for a then record price. One KLIF engineer told me the new night signal was “so tight it went down Commerce Ave without touching either curb”! Agree that KFJZ was the station in Ft Worth.

  41. Look, I am a total Drake disciple (and in my early years, I had the privilege of working for Gordon McLendon…twice). I completely agree with KHJ being #1 on the list. My list would probably put KFRC #2, KCBQ #3 and CKLW #4. (That’s three Drake stations in the top 4.) I’ll give you Z-100 in New York (a bit later era, but still deserving). KIIS belongs on the list, no question. And I won’t pretend to be as up on some of the other legendary calls as many of my radio brethren. But any list that completely overlooks the Todd Storz stations, including WHB/Kansas City, KXOK/St. Louis, WTIX/New Orleans and WQAM/Miami (or at least one of them) can’t be taken seriously. Before there was Drake, there was Storz and McLendon. Also, while I suppose KLIF/Dallas has to be on the list, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we dusted their asses when I was at KNUS/Dallas (the station Fairchild foolishly didn’t want to buy when they purchased KLIF from McLendon, but passed on his FM station). I’d say most folks who heard KNUS during its brief glory years would tell you it belongs on the list. Certainly those of us who worked there would say so. Just consider the staff: Ken Dowe (& Granny Emma), mornings; Michael Spears (PD), middays; Beau Weaver, middays; Kevin McCarthy, afternoon drive; Tommy Kramer, nights; Christopher Haze (that would be me), late nights; Jim White and Nick Alexander, overnights. Every single one of us is in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, every single one has gone on to stellar careers in our chosen branch of the business, most of us still going strong. Yeah, I’m biased, but KNUS belongs on the list.

  42. Wow, I’m as proud today as I was back in the day when I enjoyed the honor of programming two of each of your picks! Of course, I’m referring to CKLW and KFRC. I LOVED the 6-years+ I spent at the helm of those prestigious monster radio stations. Kudos to the very talented people at those stations who contributed to creating the well deserved legendary status that still exists. Thank you, Lee and Thank you, Randy. “And now ladies and gentlemen, MORE music and LES garland” 🙂

    Warmest personal regards,
    Les Garland

  43. CKLW went Drake and WXYZ and WKNR went away.50,000 watts put the Big 8 into Cleveland,Toledo and eastern PA.I remember CKLW giving the weather for Toledo and Cleveland. Then the Canadian govt. put their content rules into the playlist.Too much Ann Murray and other Canadian artist.

  44. What I love best about this story is how it gives the reader a little glimpse into how Randy thinks. I was lucky to work with Randy for a long time (and regret that I didn’t take better advantage of that connection as a petulant 20-something.). Write a book Randy.

  45. I had the pleasure of listening to 4 of these stations back in the day…

    CKLW from 67 through 74/75 before that WING Dayton in the Mid to Late 60s, WFIL in my early Air Force Days before shipping off to Vietnam, while stationed at Dover AFB in 68/69, and on occasion WLS with and without Lujack[WCFL as well} back in the mid 70s…

    Great Stuff and why I got into radio for a few years full time and a couple of decades, part~time.

  46. great memories from back in the day when radio was great. Now its boring as hell. Thank you I Heart, for ruining the industry. You will get your reward soon- in bankruptcy court!

  47. My thanks to Randy and Lee as this would have been a difficult task, since there were so many stations back in the day. It was fun reading about these different stations and what made them excel, and I wish we still had many of them. To me, radio was riveting in the 60’s and 70’s, and it fascinated me enough to get in to it, which I enjoyed for over 40 years. But now,looking back, it was a different era, and AM rode the wave while it was there. I am glad Dr. Don Rose got a mention at KFRC as I know he was huge out there in CA. and I was glad to see CKLW made #1 on the readers poll, also mentioning engineer Ed Butterbaughs work on their signal was unbelievable, CKLW actually DID jump out of radios, like I’ve never heard since. Again, I enjoyed reading about all the other great stations across the country as well. THANK YOU for the whole thing! Fun.

    • I would agree with how great WRKO was.
      Another memory WMEX had the jocks names locked in… like Fenway in the morning, Dan Donovan, Melvin X Melvin and so on…

  48. I am surprised that WXLK K-92 didn’t make the cut… small market but Russ Brown and company had a major market sound that dominated the airways in 1980 and Beyond

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