Modern radio stations

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10 of the best music radio stations around the world

Thousands of radio DJs are employed around the globe to play Anglophone pop and rock. If there’s such a thing as “world music” to them, it’s REM and Queen.

But there are many more radio stations around the world that play music from their own cultures, past and present, mainstream and marginal. When it comes to virtual travel, music is arguably the easiest and most enjoyable way to transport your brain out of Covidland to places you’ve visited – or plan to – in person.

The net is pretty chaotic, with dozens of aggregators and formats. But here are 10 soundscapes to explore. Turn up the volume to Mexican cantina level.

Map the World

Launched on 1 April by the people behind Oslo World – the Norwegian capital’s annual music bash (scheduled for 27 October - 1 November) – this simple map is a virtual guide to festivals around the planet, with a playlist of 20 songs for each provided by the local programmers. As the producers of the map note: “Our entire ecosystem is threatened, our festival family, our venues as well as our collaborators and artists. We simply do not know what will happen and how long the lockdown will last.” Many of this year’s festivals will be postponed or cancelled, but tunes from Womad NZ, Palestine Music Expo, Panama’s Macro Fest and India’s Bass Camp help fill the gap in a small way. The playlists are also on Soundcloud.


Stripped of the dizzying visuals, Bollywood songs can be moving and tender. Retro Bollywood blasts the likes of Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt and Mukesh from Bangalore. Music from the golden age, between the mid-1950s and 80s, features soulful melodies, soaring strings and a fusion of western and Indian classical elements. Hits of Bollywood contains two livestreams – for new and vintage music – and dedicates shows to renowned lyricists and singers. More recent Bollywood music often has excellent production and richer orchestral arrangements.


This continent-sized country has around 15,000 radio stations, counting licensed and pirate channels. Many are dedicated to worrying over having Jair Bolsonaro as the boss, but music has always been a cornerstone of Brazilian culture. Bossa Nova Brazil mixes the mellow João Gilberto/Sérgio Mendes sort of tunes with livelier bossa beats by legends such as Wilson Simonal, sultry-voiced Nara Leão and jazz-inflected singer and guitarist Zé Renato. The city of Salvador in the north-eastern state of Bahia is a melting pot of Afro-Brazilian cultures and musics. The effervescent website The Matrix mixes up music and world culture and all kinds of psycho-geographical ruminations, but click on the “Bahia, Brazil” tag and you gain access to some great playlists. Big MPB (música popular brasileira) and Tropicália names like Jorge Ben and Maria Bethânia are there, but so are lesser-known virtuosos such as Raphael Rabello and the very cool Afro-Bahian sound of Tribo Nação Ijexá.

Mexican and border music

There are zillions of local radio stations in Mexico, and a lot mix up native sounds with foreign rock and pop – but the locutores, or presenters, do tend to talk a lot between heaps of ads for cheap chicken and chainsaws. These can be sort of atmospheric, if you speak the lingo, but Viva El Mariachi is a festive, chat-free celebration of upbeat rancheras and melodramatic boleros by sublime singers, living and dead, such as José Alfredo Jiménez, Demetrio González and Lucha Villa. Across the border, a reliable source of Latin pop, Tejano fusion and norteño tunes – without much interruption – is Radio Campesina. It operates FM stations in eight US cities; I found the Phoenix link the best.

Americana and country

Weirdly, Toronto is the place to go for a cool Americana livestream. American Roots hops smoothly from Alison Krauss to Mudcrutch to Glen Campbell. Unlike a lot of online radio stations, the playlist features full credits and also has handy click-back links so you can listen to anything you’ve missed. Nashville’s WSM AM radio station is a great place for a fix of Dolly, Kenny and Merle, as well as good gospel, classic bluegrass, Americana and soothing crossover country/MOR. Founded in 1925, the station is famous as the home of the Grand Ole Opry (a weekly concert thought to be the world’s longest running radio programme) and the website has links to an Opry stream foregrounding contemporary country music as well as podcasts. For a virtual immersion in Nashville’s music heritage, go to

Aussie indie and community

Adelaide’s Three D is an education for anyone who thinks Aussie indie starts and stops at the Birthday Party. The station, run by volunteers, plays prog, pop, rock, funk and other music by local artists, and gives plenty of airtime to emerging talents. The house rule is that 40% of the content is Australian, half of that South Australian. Canberra’s 2XX FM 98.3, launched in 1976, is one of a kind, playing lots of Aussie music, from folk to metal, and mixing this up with good shows on indigenous music and culture, LGBTIQ topics, mental health and a huge range of ethnic programmes. Filipino, Chinese, Macedonian and African music is aired, with knowledgeable DJs explaining the more exotic stuff.

Argentine “folklore”

Argentina is not all about tango. The largely rural interior has its own roots music, linked to the Andean cultures of Bolivia and Peru. Radio Folklore 90, though based in the capital, Buenos Aires, is a good place to hear the stirring songs of Mercedes Sosa and Atahualpa Yupanqui, Eduardo Falú, Los Chalchaleros and other artists. Much of the music, known here as “folklore”, emanates from the north-western cities of Tucumán and Salta and tells of the plight of indigenous and mestizo communities, many of which were uprooted in the 20th century.

New York jazz

WBGO, with its tagline “Public radio from the Jazz Capital of the World”, schedules music according to the mood of the hour, so you’ll get “after hours” in the small hours of UK time, but all the hosts have eclectic tastes, spinning everything from standards by Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington to jazz masters like Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith and Wayne Shorter, and crossover and blues artists. A regular host is Bobby Sanabria, a renowned percussionist and bandleader, whose shows accent Latin jazz.


Where do you start? Well, probably not by trying to stream local radio stations. From Lagos to Nairobi to Jo’burg, almost all the ones I tried crashed, or the URLs were defunct. For an aural tour of the most diverse continent for contemporary music, take a wander along to Okay Africa, where there’s a sampler of songs from Ghana, Nigeria, east Africa and South Africa. The site links to Spotify so you can hear the full tracks there. At Mixcloud, choose from well curated playlists of South African house, stompin’ Algerian raï and groovy Ghanian high life. If the genres get confusing, check out UK label Real World for an introduction to 14 styles and performers from across Africa.


Broadcasting in English from the South Korean island of Jeju, Arirang plays a lot of K-Pop – which is as varied as pop anywhere else, ranging from smoochy ballads to funk-laced RnB to electronica. Evening shows tend to be more current affairs-focused but the presenters (who are streamed visually, too) play songs between newsbites. There are links to YouTube for songs from earlier programmes.

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Top 10 Top 40 and Pop Radio Stations

KIIS: Los Angeles

KIIS of Los Angeles is probably best known as the radio home of Ryan Seacrest. It also boasts one of the largest audiences of any pop radio station in the United States and frequently hosts major artists as on-air guests.

That station's history dates back to 1948 when it began as KLAC-FM. It mirrored the programming of its AM counterpart until 1967 when a middle-of-the-road format was adopted and the call letters changed to KHRM. The current call letters KIIS were adopted in 1975, along with an adult contemporary format. 

Through the years the playlist continued to evolve until its current top 40 format was adopted in 1985. Popular nationally syndicated DJ Rick Dees was replaced with Ryan Seacrest in 2004. 

Listen to the station live.

Z100: New York

Z100 is the top pop radio station in one of the world's largest radio markets. WHTZ began broadcasting in the early 1940s as WHNF. The station played easy listening music, and, after switching to call letters WMGM, it closed down in 1955. Then, 100.3 on the dial was sold to Sabre Broadcasting, and WVNJ signed on in 1961, again playing easy listening music. Finally, in 1983, with a new set of call letters, WHTZ, Z100 was born with popular morning DJ and program director Scott Shannon leading a top 40 format.

In less than three months of signing on, Z100 became the top-rated station in the New York radio market. By the early 1990s, the station's fortunes faded once again, but it launched a comeback in the latter part of the decade with popular morning DJ Elvis Duran. Today Z100 is a leader in top 40 radio.

Listen to the station live.

BBC Radio 1

The BBC, the United Kingdom's national broadcasting system, launched Radio 1 in 1967 as a direct challenge to the growing popularity of offshore pirate radio stations. Among the most popular of Radio 1's early DJs was John Peel. By the 1970s BBC Radio 1 was considered the most listened to radio station in the world. It became a major player in determining which songs became hits.

BBC Radio 1 continues to be one of the world's top pop radio stations. It broadcasts the weekly UK charts, and the current playlist is always of key interest to the music industry.

Listen to the station live.

B96: Chicago

WBBM began as a mirror FM station to WBBM-AM in 1941. At first it just broadcast the same thing on the AM side, playing a conservative mix of current music. As FM became more popular, though, things needed to change. In 1966 the station debuted what it called "The Young Sound," popular music geared to a younger audience. By 1973 WBBM played top 40 music, but that shifted to soft rock in 1980. By the late 1980s the format shifted again, and the station was known as "The Killer Bee," B96. It became a key radio station in the dance music industry. 

In 2008, WBBM adopted its current mainstream top 40 format. B96 holds an annual Summer Bash concert that features current pop artists and has been held since 1992.

Listen to the station live.

Sirius XM Hits 1

Sirius XM is commercial-free subscription-based satellite radio, first launched in 2002. The flagship mainstream top 40 station on Sirius XM is Sirius XM Hits 1. Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz hosts a weekly show, and a wide variety of pop artists have stopped in as guest hosts.

KISS 108: Boston

What became KISS 108 first went on the air in 1960 as WHIL-FM, playing automated music over a weak signal. For much of the 1960s, its music format was country. In 1972, the station switched to a beautiful music format, but nothing could dislodge it from the bottom of the ratings. Enter new owners. With a change to a disco format in 1979 and the WXKS call letters branded as KISS 108, the station suddenly surged to the top of local ratings. With the fading of disco, the station shifted to a rhythmic top 40 format in 1981. KISS 108 remains one of the leading top 40 hits stations in New England.

Listen to the station live.

WIHT Hot 99.5: Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.'s top mainstream top 40 station began in the 1960s as WGAY. The station played what was referred to as beautiful music, mostly instrumental pop songs, and that evolved into adult contemporary by the 1980s. The station received widespread publicity in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan declared that it was his favorite radio station.

WGAY came to an end in 1999, and it was replaced by WJMO, an urban oldies–formatted station. That format lasted only two years, and the current mainstream top 40 branded Hot 99.5 on new call letters WIHT debuted in April 2001.

Listen to the station live.

Power 96.1: Atlanta

What became WWPW Power 96.1 was started as WKLS in 1960 (the call letters being initials of the founders) with a $25,000 investment. Within 10 years, the easy-listening station was sold for $750,000. The station shifted to a rock format branded 96 Rock in 1974. It retained that format until 2006 and became Project 9-6-1.

In 2012, 96.1 ended nearly 40 years of rock programming in favor of mainstream top 40 and a change to the call letters WWPW. 

Listen to the station live.

KHKS 106.1: Dallas/Fort Worth

KHKS began as KDNT-FM in 1948. It went through a variety of formats and became KIXK in 1981, shifting to an oldies format in 1982. KTKS were adopted as call letters in 1984, and the station played a mainstream top 40 format for the first time. After a five-year period as a new-age station from 1987 to 1992, the station became branded as KISS-FM with KHKS call letters in November 1992. KHKS is known as the home station for the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show. The station counts Texas Radio Hall of Fame members as alumni.

Listen to the station live.

Q102: Philadelphia

What eventually became Philly's Q102 signed on as W53PH in 1942 playing classical music. In 1943, the call letters WFIL were adopted, and it was the city's first commercial FM station. It was silent for a few periods during World War II but resumed broadcasting full time in 1946. In 1968, the station switched to an adult contemporary format. In 1971, the call letters became WIOQ. By the mid-1970s the format had shifted again in an album rock direction. In 1988, WIOQ, known as Q102, adopted a top 40 format for the first time. It sponsors events, concerts, and the annual Jingle Ball.

Listen to the station live.

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Click a channel to start listening

Today's New Country - Free Music Radio
HitKast - Free Music Radio
1980s & '90s Lite Hits - Free Music Radio
Classic Rocktopia - Free Music Radio
1970s Hits - Free Music Radio
Classical Relaxation - Free Music Radio
A Flock of '80s - Free Music Radio
Lighter Sunny Hits Mix - Free Music Radio
AccuClassical - Free Music Radio
1990s R&B - Free Music Radio
1970s & '80s Lite Hits - Free Music Radio
Smooth Jazz - Free Music Radio
Latin Hits - Free Music Radio
Hey Hey We're the '60s! - Free Music Radio
Brazilian Jazz - Free Music Radio
Christian Contemporary - Free Music Radio
Rock 'n Stereo - Free Music Radio
The Spa Channel - Free Music Radio
We'll Get Through This: Positive Music - Free Music Radio
Old School Hip Hop - Free Music Radio
Romantic Piano - Free Music Radio
1980s Hits - Free Music Radio
Cocktail Jazz Trio - Free Music Radio
Road Trip 🚐 - An Indie/Pop/Rock Playlist - Vol. 3

The best internet radio stations

There’s nothing more convenient than opening Spotify or Apple Music, launching your favorite playlist, and sinking back into the driver’s seat as you cruise to work. But where’s the human element in streaming media? Sure, the playlists themselves are shareable and curated, but there’s something unbeatable about the familiar jargon, jokes, and repeatable bumpers of internet radio stations and their respective DJs. Call us nostalgic. We can take it.

If you’re looking to keep up with the latest musical trends from coast to coast and the world over, your best bet is to use an internet radio station. You might not be sure which one you should listen to, but luckily, we do.

Best internet radio stations at a glance

KEXP 90.3 FM — Seattle, Washington


Seattle’s best public radio station, a partnership between the University of Washington and Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, highlights the best new alternative music from around the globe. Best known for its live studio sessions, KEXP is often among the first major media outlets to showcase up-and-coming bands, making it a great place to hear new music before all of your Spotify-loving friends.


KCMP 89.3FM — Minneapolis

Owned and operated by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), The Current is an adult-alternative haven for all things indie and local in the Minneapolis area. Curated by over a dozen DJs, you’ll hear everything from dirty shoegaze and surf rock to experimental R&B. Various segments intermix with music cuts, including interviews, book and movie call-outs, and livestreamed concerts.


WMOT 89.5FM — Nashville

Undergoing several format changes for the duration of its call-sign, WMOT 89.5FM is tried-and-true Nashville, broadcasting an array of listener-powered roots, Americana, and bluegrass music. Current programs include the nationally-syndicated Hangin’ and Sangin’The String, and Bel-Air Drive. If you’re looking to get an authentic taste of the city that gave music its heart and soul, look no further.


KCRW 89.9 FM — Santa Monica, California

An NPR member station based out of the Santa Monica College campus, KCRW was founded in 1945 to train ex-servicemen in the then-emerging technology of radio. Now, it’s just a great place to find emerging music. Creators of the famed Morning Becomes Eclectic radio program, a show that highlights new music and live performances from talented indie artists, KCRW is an excellent place to hear well-curated musical selections, as well as to catch up on national news.


WWPR 105.1 FM — New York

Grace your ears with the latest bars featured by Power 105.1, one of the top hip-hop stations in the city that birthed the very genre. Power 105 is genuinely urban. The daily spin features a heavy focus on both mainstream and underground hip-hop and R&B with a splash of Latin and reggae crossover. It’s also home to several talk segments, but none bigger than the Charlamagne-hosted Breakfast Club, one of the culture’s most influential (and controversial) talk radio shows.

iHeartiOSAndroid KXRY 107.1 FM — Portland, Oregon


Portland’s most acclaimed independent radio station serves up the sounds of the city’s popular underground music scene to a global audience. A crowdfunded station formed in 2012, XRAY offers a varied selection of music and progressive talk radio programming and has been broadcasting around the clock for years now thanks to the help of nearly 70 part-time DJs.


Dublab — Los Angeles


Dublab is an internet-only broadcast that showcases the cutting edge of the DJ universe five days a week. The station also offers each live show for download via its website. With a rotating cast of all-star DJs that includes world-renowned heavyweights like Daedelus, Teebs, Flying Lotus, and more, Dublab is among the best streams on earth for fans of emerging beat music.


KUTX 98.9 FM — Austin, Texas

Owned and operated by the University of Texas in Austin, KUTX showcases a range of genre-specific programming, from indie and pop to disco, Latin, and other genres. It’s an eclectic mix of shows, but they are each extremely vibrant and well-curated, making it an excellent place to find something new and unexpected.


WFMU 91.1 FM — Jersey City, New Jersey

WFMU is the granddaddy of them all. The longest-running independent radio station in the U.S. is also one of the best internet radio stations on the web. This listener-funded station offers a free-form variety of eclectic shows that are sure to provide something for everyone. Such free-form formatting can be a blessing and a curse, as some hours will prod listeners to tune in elsewhere.


BBC Radio 6 — United Kingdom

When it launched in 2002, BBC Radio 6 became the first new station created by the BBC in more than three decades. A digital-only channel that focuses on alternative music from all over the globe, Radio 6 plays everything from guitar music to dance, jazz, and soul cuts. Unfortunately, the BBC’s mobile apps are only available for those living within U.K. shores, but everyone else can just as well head to the website for a listen.

U.K. only:iOSAndroid

WWOZ 90.7 FM — New Orleans

Ellis Marsalis

For those who aren’t lucky enough to live in the Big Easy, WWOZ offers up the sounds of its fair city to the world, showcasing New Orleans’ famed jazz, soul, bounce, and R&B each day. The station’s selections center largely around the jazz tradition — which is still alive and well in the city — providing an amazing look inside one of the world’s most interesting and storied sonic universes.


WQXR 105.9 FM — New York

Among the finest — and most-listened-to — classical radio stations in the world, New York’s WQXR is also one of the oldest FM stations in the world. It’s among the best internet radio stations as well. Showcasing the best of composers new and old, it’s an excellent place to tune into when looking for some serious music for work or study. It’s also the perfect pairing for that nice bottle of red wine you have stashed away.


KUSF 90.3 FM — San Francisco

The extremely varied sounds of the Bay Area are best explored on KUSF, the University of San Francisco’s radio station. A glimpse of the region that delves deep into the complex communities that have thrived there for decades, KUSF’s programming is overtly Californian, providing listeners with warm-weather jams they’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.


Radio Free Brooklyn — Brooklyn, New York

RFB Thumb

A community radio station that’s run out of the basement of a bike shop in (you guessed it) Brooklyn, New York, Radio Free Brooklyn offers interesting independent programming, with a variety of interesting talk and music shows to take you through your day the Brooklyn way.


NTS Radio — London

Founded in 2011 by Boiler Room co-creator Femi Adeyemi, NTS Radio offers a massively diverse selection of live and prerecorded music, in a variety of genres, that is often curated by some of the most influential artists in the world. More than 200 hosts regularly appear on the station, whose slogan is “Don’t Assume.” Famed artists who have curated content for NTS Radio include Thurston Moore, Gilles Peterson, Peanut Butter Wolf, Floating Points, and more.


Radio Musical De Cuba — Havana

There’s nothing more fun and energizing than the sounds of Cuban music, and there is no better place to hear it than Radio Musical De Cuba, a Havana-based station featuring an assortment of constantly streaming Cuban sounds. Grab a cigar and a glass of rum, and prepare to enjoy the sounds of one of the world’s most interesting musical cultures.



Cinemix is an all-soundtrack station that exclusively plays songs from film and television. A listener-supported station that broadcasts from Toronto, the station highlights the excellent works of iconic film composers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and more.


BBC World Service

The BBC’s worldwide arm provides up-to-date coverage of notable events around the globe, as well as interesting interviews, travel, and sports segments. Fans of global politics will love the matter-of-fact way in which the BBC covers those topics.


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Road Trip 🚐 - An Indie/Pop/Rock Playlist - Vol. 3

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