Radio Personalities and the 7 Second Challenge

Radio Personalities and the 7 Second Challenge

by Tracy Johnson

Because of shrinking attention spans, the 7 Second Challenge is a relatively new, and increasingly important condition that is challenging radio performers to be tighter, quicker and more immediate than ever before.

And it’s affecting everything, not just your radio show.

Music has adjusted,. Remember the good old days when song intros were about 20 seconds? Those ramps were great to talk over. Now? You get a second or two, if you’re lucky. And the hook starts immediately when the song comes on.

It’s the same with movies. Check out recent action films. The chase scene happens immediately, and you don’t even know why yet.

Television? Same thing. The story starts immediately, and the show’s intro doesn’t happen for several minutes. That’s why Wheel of Fortune starts the show with a puzzle already on-screen, hooking you on playing the game before you even know who’s playing.

Competition for listener attention is intense. And science proves that attention spans are shorter than ever. It’s true. Consider that in 2000, the average adult’s attention span was 12 seconds. It has dropped by 33% since then, to 8 seconds.

The 7 Second Challenge

7 seconds: That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish:

attention SPansThat means that, at the most, you have to engage listeners in your content in less than the first eight seconds. At the eight second mark, they make a decision. Stay or flee. Tune in or tune out. They may not physically push the button, but they’ve tuned you out. And that’s just as bad.

The 7-second Challenge may actually be even shorter. The brain reacts at lightning speed. Humans make decisions within the first three seconds about whether content is worth investing their time.

Our collective shrinking attention spans affect everything. Spotify says 20% of songs that are skipped are skipped within the first five seconds. It doesn’t take long to decide “not for me” and move on.

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This is one reason the first thing out of your mouth places your break (and your ratings) in the High Risk Zone.

Fast Hooks in The Movie World

So how does that work in the real world? Here’s a great example from the movie Gone Girl. First, watch the original trailer:

It’s only 90 seconds, and the drama does build.

Now, look what they did to fix it. Here’s Trailer #2, placing the provocative essence of the the movie up front, in the first seven seconds. 

This grabs you instantly:

You’re probably the most hated man in America right now. Did you kill your wife, Nick?

They told us marriage is hard work, but not for me and Nick.

By the way, do you know why most motion picture trailers are around 90 seconds long? That’s the length of time it usually takes to form an opinion on you. But you can’t compete for those opinions unless you capture the attention first. And that’s in those first few critical moments.

This applies to every break every day on the radio, too.

Listening Is an Emotional Decision

Decisions to stay or leave are spontaneous, emotional, gut decisions. It’s not logical or calculated. The audience doesn’t wait to weigh the pros and cons of staying tuned or seeking something else.

Your challenge? Imagine listeners saying this to you before each break:

What is the value you offer vs. the cost of paying attention to you? I’m busy. How will you engage listeners to stay tuned?

This is the principle behind building a strong hook into every break as part of the story-telling process.

Think about that when planning tomorrow’s show, especially those early breaks where you’re just getting “warmed up” and easing into your show. Do you think the audience cares that you just came on the air?

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Long, self-absorbed, “Good morning, here’s what we did last night and here’s what’s coming up later on the show” doesn’t cut it. You have to be ready to fire on all cylinders from the start.

Kidd Kraddick Was a Great Hooker!

The late Kidd Kraddick got it. Here’s how Kidd opened his show. This is the first break of the morning:

Listen to the energy, the enthusiasm, the focus and the excellent way he introduces each member of the show.

In two minutes, they say good morning, establish character traits for several of the personalities, relate to current topics and events and expertly tease upcoming content without being obvious.

We have to cut to the essence of entertainment quickly to coax more quarter hours, more interest, more anticipation and a greater payoff.

This is critical. The clock is ticking. How will you use the precious few seconds at the beginning of the break?


It’s all about capturing attention. You have the same 7 second challenge. Does that make you reconsider the time you put into your daily show prep for each segment?

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