Top 40 Radio can be traced back to 1935 and NBC Radio's Your Hit Parade. Totaling sales of albums and frequency of radio play, Hit Parade compiled a list of the week's hits, which were performed live. The format would be tweaked in the coming years. For example, shows like KFAC's Lucky Lager Dance Time would produce Top Ten and Top 20 lists of the week's most popular songs. In later years, stations would toy with play lists of the weekly hits.
The true inklings of Top 40 Radio appeared in the early 1950s as record spinners like Alan Freed and Murray "the K" Kaufman began to transform the role of DJs into performers who treated their audience to more diverse musical genres like rockabilly and rhythm & blues. As rock n' roll became radio standard so did Top 40. Most experts say Todd Storz was the father of the concept, consolidating his radio station's play lists into a compact grouping of Top 40 hits. At the same time Gordon McLendon, owner of Dallas' KLIF, tweaked the format further by introducing catchy jingles from PAMS and giving away big prizes in his ever-increasing on-air contests.
By the 1960s Top 40 Radio was the king across North America, with several 50,000 watt powerhouses broadcasting their AM signals across the U.S., Canada,and Mexico. Many of these stations originated on the East Coast (New York City's WMCA and WABC; Philadelphia's WIBG and WFIL; and Boston's WRKO), in the Great Lakes regions (Chicago's WLS and WCFL, and Canada's CHUM and CKLW), and the West Coast (KHJ in Los Angeles and KFRC in San Francisco). These were also the locations where new Top 40 formats were established that filtered to other markets. Two of the most successful of the time were Rick Sklar's personality-driven Musicradio, which originated at WABC, and Bill Drake's music-intensive "Boss Radio", which originated at KHJ.
These markets were also the home to the largest pool of Top 40 talent. In New York City, WMCA's Dan Daniel and Ed Baer, and WABC's Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and Dan Ingram ruled the airwaves. In Chicago it was WLS' Dick Biondi and Larry Lujack who became household names in the Top 40 era. In Los Angeles, KRLA's Casey Kasem and KHJ's Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele garnered the adoration of the fans, teenagers and adults alike.
As the 60s rolled into the 1970s, Top 40 Radio began to shift away from the AM band and move to FM, which had been the home to more eclectic stations. With the shift came new formats that took advantage of the more powerful signal and high fidelity sound. One of these was "The Q format", which originated at KCBQ (an AM station) in San Diego. With shorter, shotgun jingles and a focus on current hits rather than a mix of current and oldies, The Q format became standard for FM stations like WXLO-FM (99X) in New York City. Later in the decade, Mike Joseph's "Hot Hits" format, which focused on the Top 30 hits and nothing that dropped out of the list, would be introduced on WTIC-FM in Hartford.
It was the "Hot Hits" format, with a focus more on the music and less on personality, that would become a cornerstone of Top 40 Radio's transformation to Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) in the 1980s. It would also mark the end of legacy AM stations like WABC, KLIF and KHJ, which would transform due to changing listening habits and a splintering of formats into such genres of adult contemporary and urban contemporary. By the mid-80s CHR would reign supreme on FM stations like New York City's Z100, Miami's Y100, Washington DC's WAVA, Chicago's WBBM, and Los Angeles' KIIS. It would also be the return of personality as folks like Scott Shannon, Rick Dees, Don Geronimo, and Doug "Greasman" Tracht would rule the airwaves with their more aggressive approaches.