Radio folks love consistency. We thrive on delivering exactly what audiences expect when they expect it. Do it often enough and habits will form. That’s not a bad strategy. In fact, it’s an important discipline. Delivering expectations is useful, personalities must also find ways to surprise listeners to hold their interest.

Human beings seek excitement 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.

We are surrounded by this principle:

  • 24-hour news channels use Breaking News alerts to cut through the routine. It captures attention, signaling that something important is happening.
  • You get dozens of alerts each day 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. Scenes change every few seconds without interfering with the continuity of the story line.

Radio shows also need to break up patterns to captures attention.

Surprise is an important part of storytelling success. Without surprise, stories are flat.

5 Ways To 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.

Use Listeners: Many personalities set up a topic, then turn to the audience. The execution becomes routine and predictable. Instead, build listeners into the story as it’s being 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! One simple technique is to pause 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 a tone in a scene. You probably don’t even notice it’s there. Music beds that accent content build anticipation when used properly. But don’t just throw a music bed on. Use them strategically.

Exaggerate Statements: Topic are ordinary. 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 audio to tell stories. Playing a quote from a movie or TV show helps emphasize a story and provide familiarity. The Police Chief’s comment on an investigation can be more interesting than reading the news copy. And a listener comment is far more exciting than 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, more attention, and higher ratings.

Winning The War For Attention With Verbal Combat

The Breaking News Syndrome

The Power Of the Pause

Performing With The Conscience Of The Listener

7 Ways to Surprise Listeners

How To Win The War For Attention

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