The Greatest AOR Stations Of All Time

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Over the past few weeks our readers have been voting for the top 20 AOR stations of all time. You’ll find that final vote at the end of this story. Before we list how you voted in our poll, we turn to three AOR experts to see how they voted. Both John Sebastian and Lee Abrams have ranked their lists. Fred Jacobs provided us with a list of 20 stations as well. Fred’s top 20 are not ranked.

How John Sebastion picked them: “My decisions and analysis for this list was predicated on several considerations: Legacy…how the station influenced other Rock radio stations around the country and really the world. Longevity…Consistency in a rock format. How the station was a factor in furthering social justice…this varied market to market but it speaks to how serious the stations were about truly being sensitive to the day to day needs of their listeners and advertisers…the way they covered news, the public service they provided, the concerts they influenced to play in their market. Ratings dominance and consistency, over time and also stations that broke ratings records that in some cases still stand today.”

John Sebastian’s Top 20 Rock Stations of All Time
#1) KMET LOS ANGELES
#2) WEBN CINCINNATI
#3) KQRS MINNEAPOLIS
#4) WRIF DETROIT
#5) KSHE ST. LOUIS
#6) KISW SEATTLE
#7) WLUP CHICAGO
#8) WBCN BOSTON
#9) WMMS CLEVELAND
#10) WNEW NEW YORK
#11) WMMR PHILADELPHIA
#12) KLOS LOS ANGELES
#13) WFBQ INDIANAPOLIS
#14) WDVE PITTSBURGH
#15) KGON PORTLAND
#16) KSAN SAN FRANCISCO
#17) WYSP PHILADELPHIA
#18) WSHE MIAMI
#19) KZEW DALLAS
#20) WCOZ BOSTON
Reach out to John about his list at [email protected]

How Lee Abrams ranked his Top 20:
#1) WEBN CINCINNATI
#2) WMMR PHILADELPHIA
#3) WBCN BOSTON
#4) KMET LOS ANGELES
#5) WRIF DETROIT
#6) WMMS CLEVELAND
#7) KISW SEATTLE
#8) WDVE PITTSBURGH
#9) KQRS MINNEAPOLIS
#10) KSHE. ST LOUIS
#11) WKLS ATLANTA
#12) WFBQ. INDIANAPOLIS
#13) WNEW FM. NEW YORK
#14) WSHE SOUTH FLORIDA
#15) WQDR RALEIGH
#16) KYYS. KANSAS CITY
#17) WDIZ ORLANDO
#18) KLOS LOS ANGELES
#19) WAAF. WORCESTER
#20) KGB SAN DIEGO

Reach out to Lee about his list at [email protected]

Fred Jacobs (not ranked) Top AOR stations.
CHOM (some Canadian content)
KISS
KISW
KMET
KOZT (a cool progressive rock station in Mendocino Country, CA)
KQRS
KRXQ
KSHE
KUPD
WBCN
WDVE
WFBQ
WGRF
WMMR|
WMMS
WNEW
WNOR
WPLR
WRAT
WRIF

Reach out to Fred about his list at [email protected]

And here’s how you voted in our online poll:
#1) WMMR Philadelphia
#2) KLOS Los Angeles
#3) WRIF Detroit
#4) KSHE St. Louis
#5) WEBN Cincinnati
#6) KQRS Minneapolis
#7) KMET Los Angeles
#8) WNEW New York
#9) WNOR Norfolk
#10) WRAT New Jersey
#11) WFBQ Indianapolis
#12) KISW Seattle
#13) WKLC Charleston, WV
#14) WMMS Cleveland
#15) KNAC Los Angeles
#16) WBCN Boston
#17) WDVE Pittsburgh
#18) KQRC Kansas City
#19) WSHE Miami
#20) WGRF Buffalo

37 COMMENTS

  1. The comment should have read, “…And as if THAT weren’t enough, its AM namesake sister station *isn’t* ***EVEN***!!! WIP anymore!

  2. You left out WDAS-FM Philadelphia (yes, WDAS-FM was a Progressive Rock station in the late ’60’s and very-early ’70’s). It flipped to its current R&B format in 1971.

  3. Interesting list, pleased to have programmed 3 of the top 20, WSHE, WKLC, WGRQ, suprised that KEGL, WHTQ and WFYV did not make the list????? Their dominance over the years even over stations on the list should not be excluded. WPLJ also deserves mention over any other New York City Station as did the original WLIR.

    • In fact, two suburban-New York City AOR stations should’ve been included in at least either list: you name-checked one-WLIR Long Island; the other is WDHA Dover, NJ. And if niche AOR stations and college stations could be included, definitely yet another suburban New York City rocker: WSOU from Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. Particularly for its long-running heavy metal (and now metal- /hard alternative-oriented Active Rock) format.

  4. I’m surprised Lee didn’t mention one of his own, WWCK-FM in Flint, MI. 18 shares, Billboard AOR medium market station of the year twice.

  5. Ed, I just wanted to thank you – and the thousands of people who voted – for including me in this historic countdown. It was challenging to come up with just the right list, given all the considerations. It was also an honor for me to join two of the format’s icons – Lee Abrams and John Sebastian – in this fun process.
    Our lists are different, of course, based on histories, perspectives, and yes, memories – all of which are somewwhat flawed. I had to think long and hard about what mattered most – impact, longevity, etc. I know Lee and John must have struggled a bit with that, too.
    As I look over the list of stations “the people” came up with, it’s a pretty amazing top 20. And as I stared at those stations, I went back into my 34 years of consulting and realized I’ve worked for 14 of these stations at one time or another, including some I’m honored to work with to this day.
    Thanks to Ed Ryan and Radio Ink for putting this together, and I’m especially grateful for being chosen to submit my list.
    Rock on.

  6. I think we need to define what “greatest” means. I grew up in NYC area and while WNEW was an influential station it was not a great RADIO station. Every time it got competition, it would get its butt kicked because they gave their jocks a lot of leeway. Instead of playing what listeners wanted, you got the most overrated jock in history Scott “how’s the tour going?” (actual inane question he asked EVERY artist) Muni playing stuff he wanted instead of what listeners wanted. Granted, I and a lot of RADIO people may have loved it, but that is not what we are in business for. I can be a legend in my own room with Spotify. Radio needs to deliver the songs listeners want and ratings tell the story.

  7. 520-watt WRHY “Starview 92” transitioned from free-form to a Burkhart-Abrams Superstars station in the mid-late ’70s and went from a 1-point-something to a 2.2 in the Harrisburg/York market with ownership of males 12-24. The station dropped the consultants when I took over as PD, but my challenge was to add females and widen the demos to 34-year-olds. I had a great staff that lived the lifestyle, did some heavy dayparting, added NBC’s The Source for news and features, loosened the formatics just enough to add some occasional surprises and empower the personalities, and did several creative promotions with little or no budget. Over 4 or 5 books, we went from the 2.2 to a 5.4 including the desired demographics and beat the AM that owned us! Starview sounded great and had the highest ratings and sales in the station’s history, but the owner didn’t know how to defend it to his bank president, Buick-driving, country-club golf friends. My reward? Out on the street, fire everyone, automate and program Music of Your Life. Lasted about 6 months before he sold it. Still proud of the job we did there and think it was one of the great AOR stations!

    • Jeff, great story and more so because it’s true. Sounds like one of the reasons “radio” has ultimately self-destructed. Now, the ideals of true “radio” are being reborn in personality RRO (rock and roll-oriented) streams and/or podcasts. Turn it up to 11!

  8. KSAN listed at #16 or not at all? Funny. No way in hell KLOS was more important in its market than KSAN was in SF. No friggin’ way.

    • KSAN in San Francisco (with roots in KMPX) broke the mold and blaze a significant trail with fusing with an incredible music scene that put San Francisco on the map as an epicenter of counter-cultural rock and roll. KSAN was so much more than a radio station.

    • “Hey John Sebastian, WYSP hasn’t played music in years. They are a sports talk station.”

      Please. It’s not even WYSP anymore. It’s now WIP! And as if THAT weren’t enough, it doesn’t even simulcast with WIP-AM! Nor is the latter even WIP anymore!!

      • (Meant to leave this reply HERE!)

        The comment should have read, “…And as if THAT weren’t enough, it doesn’t simulcast with its AM namesake sister station like it did in the early years of the former’s sports format. In fact, the latter *isn’t* **EVEN**!! WIP anymore!

        • Nor are WIP (AM) and WIP-FM even sister stations ANYMORE!! The former is still a sports talk station, all right, but its call letters are no longer WIP, neither is it even co-owned with WIP (FM). Its former AM side is now WTEL. (Ironically, that was the callsign of a longtime former ethnic (mostly foreign-language) station at 860 AM.)

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