5 Ways To Surprise Listeners and Hold Their Interest

5 Ways To Surprise Listeners and Hold Their Interest

by Tracy Johnson

Radio folks love consistency. Programmers and personalities thrive on delivering exactly what audiences expect. Turn on the radio, hear what is expected. Do it often enough and habits will form. That’s not a bad strategy. In fact, it’s an important discipline in winning a market position. But while delivering expectations is useful, boredom and apathy soon create a certain numbness. To hold interest, personalities must find ways to surprise listeners and hold their interest.

Human beings seek excitement, but in a comfortable, familiar environment. That’s why consistency with surprise works so well. And the good news is, surprise doesn’t have to be over-the top. Just unexepected.

Surprise Listeners To Break Monotony

Think about how this works in In real life. Turn on a 24 hour news channel. A Breaking News alert will soon cut through the routine. Why? It captures attention, signaling that something important is happening.

How would you react in a busy restaurant if a waiter clapped loudly when approaching your table? Or a Mariachi band suddenly starts playing?

How about the alert sound when a text message or notification comes in on your phone?

Video producers have learned that frequent scene changes and multiple camera angles are important tools for maintain viewer interest. Watch how network television shows and commercials are produced, timing the length of time between dissolves or cuts. It changes every few seconds without interfering with the continuity of the story line.

Newscasts add more interest to hold attention with stock footage, voiceovers, multiple reporters, music beds, and interaction between reporters and anchors.

Radio needs to produce shows that break up patterns captures attention, too. It creates anticipation and expectation, cutting through the routine.

Surprise is an important part of storytelling success. Without surprise, stories are flat. But there are other ways to capture and hold listener interest. Radio personalities should make a concerted effort to regularly surprise listeners and hold interest in every break.

5 Ways Any Personality Can Surprise Listeners

Personalities should learn basic techniques to increase interest in audio segments. Focusing on these skills adds interest and over time, become second nature. It’s another way radio talent can perform with the conscience of the listener.

Here are 5 ways to apply the concept to your show.

Use Listeners and Guests

Many personalities set up a topic, then turn the show over to the audience. The execution becomes routine and predictable. Instead, build listeners into the story as it’s told. A well-timed caller or guest can add momentum to a break. but this takes planning. A great way to use this technique is having a listener deliver an outrageous or extreme comment that guides the storyline down a desired path.

Use Vocal Tools

The human voice is a communications weapon. Use it! There are many techniques. One of the simplest is to use silence. Nothing is louder when applied at just the right time. Learn to use pauses for dramatic impact. It adds attention and set up an important moment. There are many ways to use other vocal tools as well, including tempo, tone and texture changes. Many are explained in detail here.

Production Value

Study how video producers use dramatic music to set the tone for a scene. You probably don’t even notice it’s there. Music beds that accent content build anticipation and urgency when used to accent content. Don’t just throw a music bed on, though. Use them strategically. Listen to the air check from Jeff and Jer here and notice how they cleverly switch music beds with each “scene change” in their segment. It never disrupts the flow. Rather, it enhances the content.

Exaggerate Statements

Bringing up a topic is ordinary. It’s routine. Surprise listeners by making a strong statement. Instead of “I wonder if anyone listening who has never seen an episode of The Simpsons”, issue a challenge: “By now, there’s not a single person that has never seen an episode of The Simpsons. Nobody. None. It’s impossible. Everyone has seen at least one.” That jumps out of the speakers far more than just “wondering if”.

Use Audio

Radio is an audio medium. Use it. Go beyond music bed and sound effects. Use audio to tell stories. Playing Sexyback when talking about Justin Timberlake helps listeners identify with the topic and adds interest. Playing a quote from a movie or TV show helps emphasize the celebrity in the news. The Police Chief’s comment on the investigation can be more interesting than reading the news copy. And a listener making a comment is far more exciting than a personality reading a text message or social media post.


Breaking routines energizes content, but it takes thought, time and planning to surprise listeners. Use it to dramatize content and surprise listeners. The reward: More interest!

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The Breaking News Syndrome: How to Get Attention For On-Air Segments

How Features Can Win the War for Attention

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