Detailed Findings & Methodology
A number of songs have had more success on the radio than in other listening formats, such as physical and digital sales and streaming. Despite ranking 10th and 11th on this list, “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers and “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia each sold fewer than 500,000 copies as singles in the United States and were not certified gold. The albums containing the songs, however, each went multi-platinum. Other examples of highly ranked radio songs that did not sell 500,000 copies as singles — the minimum threshold of RIAA sales measurement — include “I Don’t Want to Wait” by Paula Cole.
In some cases, songs that were extremely successful on the radio were never released as commercial singles and were therefore ineligible for the Billboard Hot 100 at the time. Songs like “Lovefool” by The Cardigans, “3AM” by Matchbox 20, and “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt, for example, rank as the 43th, ninth, and second most successful radio songs of all time, respectively, yet were never made available for sale as singles. Had they been commercially available, those songs likely would have had similar success on the Hot 100.
Similarly, the best-selling singles don’t necessarily do well on the radio. “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem featuring Rihanna, which is tied with “Baby” by Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris as the best-selling U.S. single of all time with 12 million units sold in the United States, ranks as the 233rd biggest radio hit of all time. “Baby” ranks outside of the top 2,500, spending just 10 weeks on the radio charts and peaking at 24th.
While some songs found success on radio that was unparalleled in streaming and downloads, the artists with the most success on the radio are largely those who dominate the current Hot 100 charts. Ranking by song score — which rewards the most points for a week at No. 1, and the fewest points for a week spent at No. 50 — the most successful radio artists are Rihanna, Drake, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, Ludacris, Maroon 5, and Taylor Swift.
While Rihanna also holds the record for most weeks spent on the Radio Songs chart with 901 weeks, she is tied with Kenny Chesney as the artist with the fourth most songs to make the radio charts with 46. Rihanna and Chesney are surpassed by Chris Brown, Drake, and Lil Wayne, who each have between 50 and 60 songs that made the radio charts.
To determine the top radio songs of all time, 24/7 Wall St. ranked songs using data from Billboard’s Radio Songs chart. We constructed an index consisting of a song’s peak position, weeks spent at peak position, total weeks spent on the chart, and an aggregate song score that rewards the most points for a week spent at No. 1 and the least points for a week spent at No. 50 with data from November 1990 to March 2018. Weeks spent at peak position and total weeks spent on the chart were each given a half-weighting in the index. Data on sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America.