Full service (radio format)

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The full service radio format in the United States consists of a wide range of programming. Mostly found on the AM band, the format can be found on a handful of FM stations. It is popular mainly among smaller, local stations in rural areas not owned by major broadcasting conglomerates and is also known as hometown radio for its unusually high (compared to other modern radio formats) amount of locally-oriented content.

Programming generally heard on full service stations can include:

  • Local and national (or top-of-the-hour) news, often including agriculture reports
  • At least one local talk show (often under a generic name such as Viewpoint, Dialog, or Hotline), occasionally along with syndicated talk programming
  • Music
  • Automated programming in overnight time slots, or even a sign-off (many daytime-only stations run full-service formats)
  • Tradio, a free advertising service for listeners to offer things for sale
  • High school football and other local sports
  • Significant local advertising. Small full-service stations have an advantage of being an attractive advertising option for smaller businesses that only need to reach a small footprint and thus would not advertise on larger corporate stations. Thus full-service stations tend to work best in small towns that have large numbers of small businesses that can advertise on the station.

Full-service radio was the predominant form of radio broadcasting during the network radio era, before the debut of contemporary hit radio (top 40) in the 1950s. In the old-time radio era, most stations would mix local programs (of a wide variety) with the networks' offerings.

Since the full-service format is traditionally confined to AM and rural listeners, oldies/classic hits, adult standards and classic country tend to form the basis of most music rotations on these stations. Full service stations tend to have somewhat more of a freeform playlist, allowing disc jockeys to play favorite tunes, and as such, album cuts, B-sides, "forgotten 45s," local bands and lesser-known performers and songs can see more air time on a full-service station than on most other commercial formats. Depending on the ethnic composition of the station's coverage area and/or ownership and management, at least a portion of a full-service station's weekend programming is often set aside for ethnic music programming such as polka, Italian music, native American music, Celtic music or other widely varying ethnic programming, almost always by a local host. These ethnic shows often play on Sunday morning for listeners on their way to church. Local church services are also common on full service stations (as they may also be on larger stations), as well as some limited brokered programming.

Full service is not one of the formats defined by Arbitron; in most cases, full-service stations are usually listed under the blanket category of "variety." Smaller full-service stations rarely show up in Arbitron ratings due to their general refusal to pay for the company's services. This also allows the station to set their own advertising rates; full-service stations can often have very loyal audiences.

In the United Kingdom, the term "full service" is sometimes used to refer to the Independent Local Radio stations of the 1970s and 1980s, which were contractually obliged to feature a broad range of output (specialist music, speech, sports commentary, minority programmes) as opposed to the tightly targeted all-pop music stations of the 1990s and 21st Century.