Behind The ‘HITStory’ of Radio Countdowns

In the beginning there was the “Top 40” or “thereabouts” for radio countdowns, and there is a rich history behind them. Let’s take a stroll down “HITStory” lane and brush up on our facts.

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You see, by the late 1950s many radio stations had adopted formats that featured disc jockeys playing the top hits, which could vary from twenty to one hundred records depending on the station. The average was forty. And most of those stations would feature a countdown of their new record survey each week.

These surveys were mostly compiled from local record sales. Some stations in the ’60s began to incorporate listener requests into their tabulations. Sometimes telephone request times were set aside and a daily request countdown (Top 5 or Top 10) might be featured. Those results were then factored into the weekly survey and countdown.

Another, and bigger countdown, was often done on New Year’s Eve, usually with a Top 100 of the biggest hits of the past year. The records on these surveys were generally determined by a point system that took into account the highest position each had reached, as well as how long it stayed at that position. By the end of the ’60s, some stations had also begun to solicited listener votes for their favorite songs of the year.

The ’70s saw the countdown concept go national, with the weekly syndicated radio show American Top 40 (would later become Top 20) hosted by Casey Kasem. This idea inspired numerous other nationwide programs that continue to this day, like CBS‘s Nick Cannon’s Countdown.

Casey Kasem’s Final American Top 20 Break!

Meanwhile, the “All-Time” countdowns had begun on many stations as a yearly event. They were for the most part based on listener votes and aired during major holiday weekends. The Top 500 became the standard, originally as a tie-in by some stations with the Indianapolis 500 race on Memorial Day.

Here at CBS-FM, the original Top 500 Countdown was an annual Thanksgiving feature. Through the years we’ve had a number of variations on the theme, including kicking the list up to the Top 1001 for New Year’s Eve.

In 2007 we started a new tradition of counting ’em down, as you voted for ’em, on Labor Day Weekend. And that’s exactly what we’re doing this weekend, with your new Top 1001. Keep it here to hear each and every number!


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