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Radio’s Most-Listened-To Stations – Then & Now.

A comparison between America’s top cuming radio stations now – and 20 years ago – shows how much has changed in listening trends and how much remains the same. Powerhouses like New York’s “Z100” and “Lite FM” and L.A.’s KIIS-FM and KOST appear on both lists while some stations that were huge in 2000 are less so today, especially those on the AM band.

Ratings historian Chris Huff compiled a list of the top 20 radio stations based on cume for fall 2020 and compared it to the top 20 in fall 2000. Nine stations appeared on both lists, all of them located in either New York or Los Angeles.

In New York, CHR “Z100” WHTZ was No. 1 in 2000 and No. 2 in 2020. Crosstown hip-hop/R&B “Hot 97” WQHT was No. 2 in 2000 but ranked 13th 20 years later. Other New York stations appearing on both lists are AC “106.7 Lite FM” WLTW (fourth in 2000, No. 1 in 2020); rhythmic AC WKTU (6th then, third now), oldies-turned classic hits WCBS-FM (9th then, 4th now; and adult R&B WBLS-FM (15th to 12th).

In L.A., behemoths appearing on both tallies are CHR KIIS-FM (5th in 2000, 10th in 2020); AC KOST (19th then, fifth now) and oldies-turned classic hits “K-Earth 101.1” KRTH (20th to sixth).

For each of these radio dynasties that has maintained or grown its stature in the past two decades, there is at least one that has fallen off the top 20 cume list. Three are AM stations, offering more evidence of the challenge the heritage band faces as the number of listeners who shun the AM dial continues to rise. In fall 2000, news WINS New York was radio’s second most cumed radio station. Twenty tear later it didn’t make the list. The same goes for news sister WCBS (No. 7 in fall 2000) and sports “680 The Fan” WFAN (No. 11 in 2000). The Fan had yet to begin simulcasting on FM – that didn’t start until 2012. Other AMs that failed to make the 2020 list are news/talk WABC New York (No. 17 in fall 2000) and news WBBM Chicago (No. 18 in 2000). Like “The Fan,” WBBM had yet to add an FM signal – it began simulcasting in 2011. AM’s travails impacted the news/talk format, which placed four stations on the 2000 list and none on 2020’s top 20.

Meanwhile, there are stations that didn’t survive the time between the new millennium and today. Among them is alternative “K-Rock” WXRK New York. The then-flagship for Howard Stern was tenth in 2000. Its eventual replacement, “Alt 92.3” WNYL, is No. 20 in 2020. Hot AC WPLJ New York made the 2000 list but its audience declined since then and the station was sold to Educational Media Foundation in 2019, which flipped it to contemporary Christian “K-Love.” Adult R&B “Kiss 98.7” WRKS was 16th at the turn of the century, before its signal flipped to sports in 2012.

Among stations that ranked top 20 then but no longer did 20 years later are hip-hop/R&B “Power 106” KPWR Los Angeles, rhythmic CHR “B96” WBBM Chicago, and alternative KROQ-FM L.A. Meanwhile 11 stations have grown in stature to rank among 2020’s top 20 that didn't make the list 20 years ago. These are hot AC WNEW-FM New York (No. 7), hot AC “104.3 My FM” KBIG L.A. (No. 8), Spanish tropical “Mega 97.9” WSKQ New York (No. 9), classic rock “Q104.3” WAXQ (No. 11), AC “Sunny 99.1” KODA Houston (No. 15), hip-hop/R&B “Power 105.1” WWPR New York (15), adult hits “Jack-FM” KCBS-FM L.A. (16), rhythmic AC “94.7 The Wave” KTWV L.A. (17), AC “93.9 Lite FM” WLIT Chicago (18), CHR “106.1 Kiss-FM” KHKS Dallas (19) and WNYL (20).

Beyond changes in listening and programming there was another seismic shift between then and now. In fall 2000, paper and pencil diaries were still the ratings currency for the entire industry. Now the top 45 markets are measured electronically. The methodology change had major changes on listening estimates.

View Huff’s then and now list HERE.

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