Format History

This brief history is based on this author's experience of following the charts. This is by no means an official or comprehensive history...

Top 40's decline

In the late 1980s, Top 40, a.k.a. "pop" music was riding high. Acts such as Phil Collins, Billy Joel, New Kids on the Block, and even Donny Osmond rode high on the charts. Alternative rock was beginning to impact the top 40, and rap was an ever growing format. By the early 1990s, pop’s core audience, teens and young adults, became tired of hearing the same type of song over and over. The listeners began to leave the format. Acts such as the New Kids were mocked and shunned. Teens and young adults left the format for country, alternative rock, and rap.

Country music artists were becoming younger and more "hip", and this helped attract the younger audience. The number of country radio stations continued to grow explosively in the early ‘90s. On the alternative rock scene, new bands from Seattle made grunge very popular. Acts such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana attracted young adults with their angst driven songs. This type of rock made the "hair bands" look like fluff to the audience, and the hair bands’ popularity declined. Finally, rap continued to grow and attract a large part of the top 40 audience.

As top 40 continued to decline in the early ‘90s, the format began to splinter. Top 40 is known for playing popular songs, generally no matter if the song is rock, soft, R&B, etc. However, with the rise of rap and grunge, many top 40 stations quit playing those songs. They began to use slogans such as "Your favorite songs without all of the hard rock and rap." This subformat became Adult Top 40, or Hot Adult Contemporary (HAC). HAC was more diverse and played "harder" songs than the regular Adult Contemporary (AC) format.  The format's target is still female, but a little older than Pop listeners and younger than AC.

The format officially became recognized in April, 1994 when the Radio & Records publication printed its first HAC chart.  Billboard first published its Adult Top 40 chart in March, 1996.

HAC continues to evolve with musical trends.