Signals Over the Air: Ranking the ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ Radio Stations
By RJ Cubarrubia
Grand Theft Auto V features 17 radio stations, 15 of them with diverse playlists curated by notable DJs making for a top-shelf airwaves experience. The wealth of choices is exciting — if not a little overwhelming. There’s something for almost everyone: roots country, classic rock, hip hop, reggae, funk, all sorts of modern alternative, even stations curated by Wavves, Flying Lotus and Soulwax.
So finding where to jump in can be tough. Besides the score — expertly crafted by Tangerine Dream, Woody Jackson, The Alchemist and Oh No, and mixed by DJ Shadow — GTA V sports 241 total tracks across those 15 music stations. But some stations have a handful of outstanding selections among a dud of a playlist, while others bring a batch of solid cuts with few spikes in quality. Here’s a rundown of the 17 radio stations in GTA V, from worst to best, to make sure you have the right tune for the job.
17. West Coast Talk Radio
WCTR 95.6 riles up satirical babbling heads for a humorous jab at talk radio. But no music basically places the station last by default. This “real patronizing” programming will still stitch up your ribs and gives more depth to the game’s surroundings.
16. Blaine County Talk Radio
BCTR suffers from the same fate as WCTR 95.6, but this station also features quirky tidbits like interviews with celebrities from the GTA V universe. Listening to BCTR further engages you with the game’s world — if you’re patient enough for the chatter.
15. Worldwide FM
Standout Track: Cashmere Cat, “Mirror Maru”
Worldwide FM expectedly features electronic, pop, funk and worldbeat tracks from across the globe. And though not American, GTA V‘s Scotland-based development team (Rockstar North) is technically international, if not tuned to English. But since Los Santos is an alternate universe Los Angeles, giving slots to American artists like Toro y Moi (“Harm in Change”) and inc. (“The Place”) — who’d both be a better fit for FlyLo FM or Radio Mirror Park — seems like a missed opportunity for a more cosmopolitan selection.
14. East Los FM 106.2
Standout Track: Fandango, “Autos, Moda Y Rock and Roll”
A Latin station slots in nicely for a pseudo-L.A. setting. Points for authenticity and a commitment to Spanish language songs. Plus, DJs Don Cheto and Camilo Lara offer a wide cut of tracks, dipping over 40 years back for the Los Ángeles Negros’ “El Rey y Yo” to newer songs like La Vida Bohème’s “Radio Capital,” which proves Gang of Four and the Rapture have some big fans down in Venezuela (not to mention the Ramones with that “gabba gabba hey” chant). The heavy focus on tracks from this millennium, however, holds back the station from drawing a more colorful picture of Latin music.
13. FlyLo FM
Standout Track: Thundercat, “Oh Sheit, It’s X”
Hang out with mastermind producer and rapper Flying Lotus as he takes the reins on his own station, where naturally, he spins plenty of his own songs, like “Catapult Man,” “Stonecutters” and “The Diddler.” FlyLo’s impeccable taste results in no weak selections, but his wide-ranging curation works to his detriment: the songs don’t flow together — be it in vibe or actual BPM — so the station can actually distract from game play. Some tracks seem better for other stations (Machinedrum’s “She Died There” would be great on Radio Mirror Park), but FlyLo also gives some crucial spotlight to instrumental hip-hop (Clams Casino’s “Crystals”) and other spooky and brutal beats that are ill fit for the others. Essentially, it’s easy to hear something on FlyLo FM, feel inspired and flip to a station that specializes in that sound.
12. Los Santos Rock Radio
Standout Track: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, “Hollywood Nights”
Classic stadium and heartland rock brought to you by Kenny Loggins. The punchy energy, sun-baked cheer and radiant resilience of Los Santos Rock Radio is a little too delightful for extreme violence, but not quite weird enough for surreal criminality. Still, there’s nothing quite like cruising the Los Santos highways in a muscle car with the mountain sunset behind you as Bob Seger, Foreigner, Queen, Def Leppard and Steve Miller Band blast on the radio.
11. West Coast Classics
Standout Track: King Tee feat. Ice Cube & MC Breeze, “Played Like a Piano”
An appropriate celebration of West Coast hip-hop, West Coast Classics and host DJ Pooh anchor a hint of place and location to Los Santos’ visibly recognizable depiction of Los Angeles. Dr. Dre owns this station, popping up with 2001 tracks “The Next Episode” and “Still D.R.E.” (Snoop Dogg shows up on both of those, too), and also flexing on N.W.A. tracks “Appetite for Destruction” and “Gangsta Gangsta.” MC Eiht’s “Straight Up Menace” and King Tee’s “Played Like a Piano” show some thoughtful curation, but the reliance on Dre and Snoop for a third of the songs is disappointing as far as effort is concerned.
10. The Blue Ark FM
Standout Track: Lee Perry & The Upsetters, “Grumblin’ Dub”
Chill vibes from reggae legend and dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry. The unfazed cool of Dennis Brown, Half Pint, Joe Gibbs and more offer a strange sheen of hilarity to high speed hit-and-runs, engineered traffic jam explosions and other totally uncalled-for acts of violence. Too much time with Blue Ark, however, makes murder just too relaxing.
9. Radio Mirror Park
Standout Track: Poolside, “Do You Believe”
The station for a fictional Silver Lake, hosted by facial hair savant Twin Shadow. Toro y Moi ends up here, too, along with other indie standards like Yeasayer, Neon Indian, Health and YACHT. The luscious textures, exquisite disco beats, slithering bass lines and twinkling synths of Radio Mirror Park make almost everything sexy and cool; stepping into a freshly carjacked luxury vehicle with this station already on feels like a gift of Egyptian cotton opulence. Solid collection straight through, if not a little predictable and safe.
8. The Lowdown 91.1
Standout Track: Aaron Neville, “Hercules”
Blaxploitation actress and Foxy Brown star Pam Grier leads this ’70s soul, R&B and funk station, where hip-hop heads will find the source material for familiar samples. Aaron Neville‘s “Hercules,” which was sampled just last year by Action Bronson and Party Supplies on their “Steve Wynn” track, delivers ice water right into the veins for high-octane chases and four-star ‘wanted’ level police escapes. Smokey Robinson‘s “Cruisin’” appears darkly revelatory — also uncomfortably twisted — while soliciting in a nice car, and the Delfonics‘ titanic “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)” is as epic as the game itself.
7. Radio Los Santos
Standout Track: A$AP Rocky feat. Aston Matthews and Joey Fatts, “R-Cali”
It’s a homecoming for Big Boy: the Power 106 DJ and former Pharcyde bodyguard – who voiced Barry “Big Bear” Thorne” in GTA: San Andreas – hypes up this current rap station. Cuts like Future‘s “How It Was” and Freddie Gibbs’ “Still Livin’” give Radio Los Santos everything from bottle service bangers to gritty head-knockers. But A$AP Rocky‘s track with Aston Matthews and Joey Fatts, “R-Cali,” might be the game’s single most monstrous track; its towering beat and woozy aggression embraces the extreme essence of GTA V, and the ferocious mind-eraser fuels juggernaut crime sprees like Mondo Fruit Squeezers jack up hyperactive children.
6. Vinewood Boulevard Radio
Standout Track: Bass Drum of Death, “Crawling After You”
Vinewood Boulevard Radio brings the scuzzy, fuzzy new school guitar rock and smacks you upside the head with it. Bass Drum of Death, METZ, Ceremony, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall Band, FIDLAR and station host Wavves tear through six-string ragefests, and the station keeps the scene alive, sticking with new songs and dipping back to only 2004 for its oldest track (Hot Snakes’ “This Mystic Decade”). But there’s often a sheer vulnerability that betrays these songs’ raw power, and it seems unlikely Trevor, Michael or Franklin — the game’s three main characters — would actually crank this stuff.
5. Channel X
Standout Track: Black Flag, “My War”
Searing punk rock helps get the demons out, and Channel X is here for all your cathartic needs. OG Black Flag vocalist, Circle Jerks leader and Off! singer Keith Morris brings his deep cred and jagged attitude to serrations like Agent Orange’s “Bored of You,” Youth Brigade’s “Blown Away,” the Germs’ “Lexicon Devil” and Descendents’ “Pervert.” Black Flag’s timeless “My War” is sonically a living, breathing, senseless GTA V killing spree. Let the hate flow through you.
4. Space 103.2
Standout Track: Sho Nuff, “Funkasize You”
Look good while being bad with these booty shakin’ funk and disco grooves transmitted from the stars. Rick James’s “Give It to Me Baby,” Stevie Wonder‘s “Skeletons,” Taana Gardener’s “Heartbeat” and even Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” make every drive an exercise in style. And it’s all tied together by celestial host Bootsy Collins. Funk with him, you know he’s got it.
3. Rebel Radio
Standout Track: Charlie Feathers, “Can’t Hardly Stand It”
The majority of GTA V‘s map is a desert and mountain expanse, and this roots and outlaw country station is the best soundtrack for backroad ATV drives to the summit, off-road exploration and desert riding. Willie Nelson‘s “Whiskey River,” Jerry Reed’s “You Took All The Ramblin’ Out Of Me” and Johnny Cash‘s “General Lee” slap some true grit to rural joyrides. And Charlie Feathers’ loopy angst on “Can’t Hardly Stand It” perfectly fits the mentally imbalanced Trevor.
2. Soulwax FM
Standout Track: Goose, “Synrise (Soulwax remix)”
Electronic duo Soulwax slice up a platter worthy of their BBC Radio 1 essential mixes. They keep things current, staying mainly within the past three years save for one cut (1988′s Fatal Error’s “Fatal Error”). Mim Suleiman’s “Mingi,” Matias Aguayo’s “El Sucu Tucu” and Daniel Avery’s “Naive Response” pump up the party, as do Soulwax remixes of Pulp’s “After You” and Goose’s “Synrise.” Excessive bassheads and thirsty wub-fiends will be bummed: nothing is overdone, instead graced with high taste and mixed continuously like an IRL DJ set.
1. Non Stop Pop FM
Standout Track: Mis-Teeq, “Scandalous”
English fashion model Cara Delevigne lends her touch to this excellent collection, though her U.K. roots — as well as Rockstar North’s — are a little exposed by the song choices. The presence of big American hits like Rihanna‘s “Only Girl (in the World)” seem appropriately big, as do bonafide pop queens like Britney Spears (“Gimme More”). But Fergie‘s “Glamorous,” while a smash of its own, feels like a weaker selection in 2013, and Kelly Rowland‘s “Work” was a bigger hit overseas than the U.S. Non Stop Pop is also the station of choice for the Vanilla Unicorn strip club, so, um, some players might find themselves listening to the station quite often.
For American listeners, Non Stop Pop gives a different perspective, stuffing the station with big songs that might be unfamiliar on our side of the ocean while also digging up ’80s cuts from America (Hall and Oates “Adult Education”) and the U.K. alike (Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls”). But above all, Non Stop Pop features the game’s most fun song to play with: Mis-Teeq’s “Scandalous.” Cello dive-bombs, rumbling bass blips, sharp and clean snares, and Richter Scale-wobbling stomps bestow a spirit of invulnerability, but the flirtatious lyrics and big budget pop embellishment punch through any uneasiness from unsavory actions.