Mainstream rock stations represent the middle ground between classic rock and active rock on the programming spectrum, in that they play more classic rock songs focusing on the 1970s and 1980s and fewer recent or trending rock songs than active rock stations, and omit the lighter pop music that can be present on classic rock stations. They program a balanced airplay of tracks found on active rock and classic rock playlists, but the music playlist tends to focus on charting hard rock music from the 1970s through the 2000s.
Mainstream rock is the true successor to the widespread album-oriented rock (AOR) format created in the 1970s. However, mainstream rock can be used as a modernized update of classic rock if any radio station playlist has to cut back on some active rock artists and songs due to ratings and popularity demand, which is an absolute variable in each local market by each state and each franchised or locally owned radio company operation. To this day, there are a select few mainstream rock programmed stations that will purposely play any new rock artist while keeping the classics involved, which sits on a borderline scale being influenced by active rock strongly. Meanwhile, some stations consist of playing all 40 years worth of rock hits, ranging from classic hard rock and hair metal artists all the way to 2000s hard rock and metal artists, the format is an open variable. Classic hard rock of the mid to late 1970s and glam metal from the mid to late 1980s alongside with the traditional follow up of the 1990s alternative and grunge is the typical expectation for mainstream rock, it is less common to hear a lot of newer rock artists.
It is becoming more rare to come across a rock station that will do so, meanwhile broadcasting and marketing the format. Mainstream rock is evolving into a sequel for the classic rock radio format, it is slowly removing any artist that are post 1990s and newer, this is a following trend since hardly any classic rock station will play harder and heavier songs and artists within their format.
As of 2013, some examples of mainstream rock stations, often using the slogan "Everything That Rocks", in terrestrial radio include: KSHE/St. Louis, MO, KCLB/Palm Springs, CA, KEGL/Dallas, TX, KRXQ/Sacramento, CA, KISS/San Antonio, TX, KDKB/Phoenix, AZ, KBER/Salt Lake City, UT, WDVE/Pittsburgh, PA, WHQG/Milwaukee, WI, WFYV-FM/Jacksonville, FL, CJAY/Calgary, Alberta, KZRR/Albuquerque, NM, KEZO/Omaha, NE, WHJY/Providence, RI, KICT/Wichita, KS, KAZR/Des Moines, IA, KMOD/ Tulsa, OK, KTUX/Shreveport, LA, KZEL/Eugene, OR, WIYY/Baltimore, MD, WNCD in Youngstown, OH, and CHOM-FM/Montreal, QC. Most have a very long heritage that dates back to the 1970s as AOR stations, which is why several trades like Billboard and R&R will refer these stations as "Heritage Rock".
Outside the United States and Canada, mainstream rock refers generally to rock music deemed "radio friendly". It very rarely is referred to as a specific radio format.
- Active rock - like mainstream rock, but plays a very popular demand of new and emerging hard rock and heavy metal artists along with the classics, but can also adopt some Alternative Rock songs as well
- Classic rock - contributes to classic songs from the age of rock that started
- Alternative rock - contributes to new alternative rock format, but primarily based on new and emerging alternative rock artists, some Indie alternative artists, some 90's alternative and Grunge and some Emo- Alternative and pop punk