Retuning into the best playlists...
Grand Theft Auto 5 - main characters

Anyone who’s held a control pad this side of the millennium bug that never (quite) was knows all about Grand Theft Auto. The games series, originally developed in Scotland by DMA Design (now Rockstar North), has been a fixture on multi-format sales charts ever since its top-down debut title emerged for the PlayStation, PC and more in 1997.

Buzz for Rockstar’s next instalment in the series, GTA V (released in September), is building considerably, and the ‘net was recently treated to the game’s first gameplay trailer. In just a few days, the YouTube clip in question attracted over 11 million views. (The clips below all contain strong language.)

Since going 3D for Grand Theft Auto III in 2001, the series has not only featured consistently brilliant storytelling and always-frantic action, but also some truly excellent licensed soundtracks. Much of the in-game music is heard via radio stations, which the player can tune into while driving around Liberty City, San Andreas or Vice City – locations modelled on New York, California and Miami respectively.

Clash thought it would be fun to spotlight 10 of the best stations featured across the GTA series, ahead of the release of the fifth game proper – the soundtrack to which is still under wraps. So, join us in a little nostalgia, before we dive into the shenanigans of V’s three antiheroes, Michael, Trevor and Franklin.

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Chatterbox as featured in Grand Theft Auto III

Before we get into the music-playing stations, it’s well worth noting that the GTA series also features its share of talk networks. Chatterbox, featured in 2001’s GTA III, was the first of these to be heard, featuring listeners calling in with their problems and opinions, and a heated host in the form of former rock-radio presenter Lazlow (aka New Yorker Lucius Jones), who conducts interviews with a caustic attitude. Chatterbox – like the talk stations that followed it in the series – is played for laughs; but its features and format echo real-life equivalents, almost celebrating comparable shows while also lampooning them. Lazlow’s long-term involvement with the GTA series’ soundtrack work suggests he’ll be a part of V’s set-up, although this isn’t yet absolutely clear.

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The Beat 102.7 as featured in Grand Theft Auto IV (including The Lost And Damned and The Ballad Of Gay Tony)

With a DJ roster including Funkmaster Flex, New York’s Hot 97’s Mister Cee, and DJ Green Lantern, it’s pretty obvious what The Beat is going to offer. Here we have bumps and beats, raps and rhymes, with a playlist featuring Nas, Ghostface Killah, Busta Rhymes and Kanye West. It calls itself “the home of hip-hop”, and we’re not arguing. To be honest, sometimes we like to fire this up on YouTube while playing San Andreas…

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JNR – Jazz Nation Radio as featured in Grand Theft Auto IV

Presented by legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes, JNR offers tunes for moments of meditation, between GTA IV’s instances of explosive violence. Count Basie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davies… imagine how many people JNR actually turned onto these strands of jazz, through the unlikely form of a videogame.

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K-DST as featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

K-DST, the classic rock station for San Andreas, features a playlist including cuts from Kiss (‘Strutter’), Creedence Clearwater Revival (‘Green River’), Grand Funk Railroad (‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’) and, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’. But the main draw – the glue, holding everything together – is the host, Tommy ‘The Nightmare’ Smith, ex-frontman for the entirely fictional prog band, Crystal Ship. That voice sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s only bleedin’ Axl Rose. 

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Radio X as featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

No celebrity DJ for Radio X, just great alt-rock tunes, really. From Primal Scream to Alice In Chains via The Stone Roses and Faith No More, it’s the 6 Music of the GTA series… albeit with more Danzig.

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Flash FM as featured in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

The ‘80s-set Vice City obviously stuck to a suitable soundtrack, and Flash FM strikes the nail on its head with its mix of Hall & Oates, Joe Jackson, Go West and, naturally, Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. Simply the best station to tune into as the slightly low-res sun begins to set. Oh, and Yes and The Buggles, one after the other? A bold move there, DJ Toni.

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K-Rose as featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

As the GTA series (generally) treats each of its different stations with the same respect, offering the same high quality programming whatever the genre, the country network of K-Rose wasn’t presented as an afterthought affair. DJ Mary-Beth Maybell is an obvious archetype of the spurned female country singer, having been married numerous times. But you can’t knock what she plays: Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, The Statler Brothers… K-Rose mixes the established with the slightly less obvious, and is actually a pretty satisfying listen while pulling off a drive-by on a dusty side-road.

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Emotion 98.3 as featured in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

It’s the ‘80s, so of course there’s a station full of power ballads. Emotion 98.3 delivers the goods: REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Cutting Crew. Total cheese, most of it, but entirely moreish.

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The Vibe 98.8 as featured in Grand Theft Auto IV

A natural partner to Emotion 98.3, The Vibe packs a whole lot of slushy R&B into the mix, finding just about enough space for R Kelly, Barry White and Ginuwine. Clash can’t really measure how addicted it became to Alexander O’Neal’s ‘Criticize’ in 2008, but it was entirely the fault of this game, and this station.

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Bounce FM as featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

And our final pick… Bounce FM is the home of the inimitable Funktipus, a DJ spinning the classiest, gooiest jams, from Ohio Players to The Gap Band. And, at one point, he even plays his own material, in the shape of ‘Loopzilla’. Yup, this fictional DJ is actually the godfather of funk himself, George Clinton. Get involved, Los Santos…

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Grand Theft Auto V is released in September. But you already knew that. It has a web presence here

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