The year 1981 in radio involved some significant events.
March – KWNT (1580 AM) of Davenport, Iowa, switches from its longtime country music format – which it had held since the 1950s, including under its previous call sign KFMA – to a golden oldies format, emphasizing music of the 1930s through early 1950s. It is the first in a series of format switches at the frequency over the next 19 years – formats ranged from oldies to soul to black gospel – all of them unsuccessful.
June 1 – CJCB-FM Sydney, Nova Scotia flips from Easy Listening to Country. Along with the format change, the station changes its call letters to CKPE-FM.
September 22 – WCAU-FM in Philadelphia debuts a new Hot Hits format called "98 Now!" which sweeps the local ratings and inspires parent company CBS to look at converting its other FM stations to similar formats.
October – "The Weekly Country Music Countdown," a three-hour weekly countdown program featuring the top 30 country hits of the week as reported by Radio & Records magazine. Hosted by radio personality Chris Charles, the show is the first successful rival to "American Country Countdown."