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 an increasingly important concept that challenges radio performers to be tighter and quicker than ever before. It’s a real thing, for sure. And it’s affecting everything in entertainment, not just radio shows.

But as the concept of getting into the hook of a talk segment quickly without wasting listener time, 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 more important than ever to avoid wasting the listener’s time. Let me explain.

The 7 Second Challenge Concept

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.

As you can see, today’s adults have an 8-second attention span. It’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 a great risk of 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.

“Not worth my time” is an important distinction. I’ll explain in a moment.

The 7-Second Impact

Our ever-shrinking attention span affects everything.

  • 20% of songs skipped on Spotify happen within the first five seconds. Listeners quickly decide “this is not worth my time”.
  • Check out action films. The chase scene happens immediately, and the viewer often has no idea know why.
  • Television? Same thing. The show’s intro comes several minutes after a storyline is established. Even Wheel of Fortune starts with a puzzle on-screen before the contestants are introduced.

But 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 what I call the High-Risk Zone. This is the dangerous period when an entertainment element changes.

You might also like:  How To Open a Talk Break and Perform In the Listener’s Environment

But let’s look at the 7-Second Challenge again. 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 new 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.

You might also like:  The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

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.


Winning quarter-hours with personality radio is impossible without first capturing attention.

Yes, the 7-second challenge is real. Listeners do 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 continued attention.

Yes, the clock is ticking, counting down to the point where a listener tunes out. But rushing into a segment pushes listeners away.


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A Complete Guide To Opening Breaks With Strong Hooks

Why Hooks Matter: The High-Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

It’s All About The Hook Seminar on Demand

It’s all About The Hook eBook

Quick, Easy Ways to Test Hooks And Teases

6 Types of Hooks To Improve Opening Lines

Quick, Easy Ways to Test Hooks And Teases

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