Shrinking attention spans has made the 7 Second Challenge an increasingly important concept that challenges radio performers to be tighter than ever before. It’s a real thing, for sure. And it’s affecting everything in entertainment, not just radio shows.

Getting into the hook quickly without wasting listener time is important but many radio stations have over-reacted. And it’s causing personalities to be less relatable. Maybe it’s time to revisit how we apply this good idea.

There’s no doubt that it’s important to avoid wasting the listener’s time.

The 7 Second Challenge

Adults today have a short attention span. How short? Shorter than a goldfish, according to a Google study. I have no idea how they measured a goldfish’s attention span, but I’ll trust Google.

Today’s adults have an 8-second attention span. That’s 33% shorter than attention spans a couple of decades ago. The popular application of this concept is to ensure that content engages listeners in less than eight seconds to avoid tune-out. They may not physically push the button, but they’ve mentally tuned out. And that’s just as bad, especially in markets measured by diary methodology.

But real-life listener patience may actually be shorter than 8 seconds. Studies have shown that humans decide within the first three seconds if the content is not worth their time.

Ah, remember that phrase. “Not worth my time” is an important distinction.

Maybe Radio Has Gone Too Far

The first thing out of an air personality’s mouth is critical, for sure. As soon as the mic is on, talk breaks enter the High-Risk Zone. This is the dangerous period when an entertainment element changes.

While it’s true that listeners make quick decisions that something is “not worth my time”, that’s a very different concept than “may be worth my time”.

Many radio personalities now launch into the middle of a story immediately as a song is ending. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard:

  • A Keith Urban song fades as the personality shouts: “How much would you pay for a Super Bowl commercial this year?”.
  • On a Contemporary Christian station, a quiet, thoughtful song ends cold. As the last note hits, the personality says, “I have no idea what to do about my 2-year-old’s latest trick.”
  • And on a CHR station, an uptempo song ends cold. The personality starts just as cold with, “This story about a woman who collects My Little Pony toys is going to blow you away”.

These outbursts are abrupt and in some cases, sounds rude. The 7 Second Challenge is being taken to an extreme.

In each case, there’s no context. How did we get from a hit song to talking about a My Little Pony collection?

A New Approach

Without a transition that honors the listening environment, personalities are abrasive and inconsiderate. Imagine walking up to a group of people having fun together and bursting into a story. You wouldn’t do that! There’d be a transition to the story you’re about to tell.

Here’s a new approach. Instead of fearing that we have to win attention in the first 7 seconds, how about focusing on not losing attention? Don’t obsess over the first few words. Focus on holding attention followed quickly by earning continued attention with a solid hook.

This allows time for an audio handshake. Don’t sacrifice warmth and humanity just to compete in the battle for winning attention in the 7 Second Challenge.

The key is to avoid wasting the listener’s time. That doesn’t mean eliminating every unneeded word.

Transition into the next segment quickly and efficiently while honoring the listener experience.

This is the principle behind building a strong hook into each break as part of the storytelling process.


Yes, the 7-second challenge is real. Listeners make fast decisions, but their first decision is that “this is not for me”. A loud, abrupt transition to an out-of-context hook is more likely to run listeners off than keep them engaged.

Make a quick personal connection to not lose attention. Then a quick hook to win attention.

The clock is ticking, counting down to tune-out. But rushing into a segment pushes listeners away.

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