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, Dialogue, or Hotline), occasionally along with syndicated talk programming.
- Music, frequently drawing from a number of popular formats. Common ones include middle-of-the-road, adult contemporary, country, and oldies/classic hits.
- 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. Frequently, there will be a NCAA Division I university broadcasting football and basketball games (or, in northern regions, ice hockey), and often a smaller college in the market – especially if the college does not have its own station – will also have its games carried on the station; a full-service station may also affiliate with a major professional sports league team's radio network (this is especially true of the NFL, which plays most of its games during the day, when most AM stations can make best use of their signals).
- Locally based contests or prize giveaways, such as the "cash call", where a dollar amount is given out and a caller who has submitted an entry to the contest is called to tell the host what the amount is to win a check in that amount, usually a sum between $20-$75; if guessed wrong the amount is increased and the jackpot rolls over.
- Sunday morning church services, often from several local congregations. Sometimes, a station will also have a daily sermonette at some point during the day, from possibly a rotating pool of pastors giving a brief but inspirational message, scripture reading, or "thought for the day." Conversely, major-market stations that are corporately owned are apt to carry local church services less frequently, preferring to carry automated, syndicated or brokered programming.
- Limited brokered programming, usually during off-peak hours.
- 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.
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 or specialty music programming such as polka, Italian music, native American music, Celtic music or other widely varying ethnic programming, almost always by a local host. Many stations also set aside a block of programming for golden oldies, or music from the 1920s through early 1960s, with genres ranging from early rock and roll and pre-1965 country music to pop standards, swing, jazz, big band and – sometimes – existing recordings predating the 1920s.
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. The name of the format implies that the station serves a broad spectrum of listeners and demographics with small portions of various types of programming.
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. The freeform playlist also enables jockeys to fit in caller requests more frequently, whereas larger stations owned by corporations may only take requests at designated times if at all (and then have restrictions on top of that, such as only current hits plus recurrents within a certain time frame).
Full service is not one of the formats defined by Nielsen; 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.