The key to winning fans is getting more attention. Attention is a reward for creating compelling content that can’t be ignored. But working harder to prepare better content will not guarantee improved results. The key is to create brain-craving content. Psychologists have revealed several important concepts that will help personalities and programmers understand how the brain works. These findings are not new, but they are profound.

Brain-Craving Content Starts With A Sense Of Order

Human beings naturally want things to make sense. When we don’t understand, we are confused. Confusion leads to frustration. And when frustrated, we avoid the things that confuse us.

In other words, when the audience can’t figure out what is happening, they switch stations. This happens to all of us. Absolutely everyone. Think about the last time you tuned in to the middle of a TV show or movie and couldn’t understand the plot. What happened? Did you invest the time to figure it out or research it? Of course not. You moved on.

We see it in radio research all the time: After commercials, confusion is the #1 reason listeners tune out. And today, listeners are more easily confused and have less patience than ever:

  • Each minute, more than 4 million new posts appear on Facebook.
  • There are 347,272 tweets per minute.
  • In the next 60 seconds, 1,400 new blog posts will be published.
  • Just one minute from now, more than 400 hours of new video content will appear on YouTube.
  • Over 1,000 original, scripted TV series were broadcast on television in 2022. That’s up from 532 in 2019 and just 216 in 2010.
  • Three years ago, there were 29 million podcast episodes on the Apple platform, nearly double the number in 2018. Today, there are 66 million.
  • And if that’s not enough, 20,000 new songs will be uploaded on Spotify…today!

That’s just part of the traffic targeting a listener’s limited brain space.

Content Must Be Simple

Of course, listeners simply aren’t aware of all of that content. They make personal choices from options they are familiar with. So let’s dig a little deeper.

  • In an average day, more than 5,000 messages attack each audience member, trying to get noticed.
  • Assuming the average listener sleeps 8 hours a day, they are exposed to 312 messages an hour.
  • Or 5 new messages a minute.
  • That’s a new message every 20 seconds.

So where does that leave radio shows? Most radio listeners choose a station as a background option, a soundtrack to set a mood while doing something else in the foreground.

Whew. That’s a big challenge for radio personalities.

That’s why content must be easy to understand and digest. We don’t have the luxury of building a complicated premise. If there’s too much homework, there’s no chance to become brain-craving content.

Not sure about that? Here’s proof.

Words Matter

Choosing the right words makes a huge difference in listener retention. Here are three keys:

Simplicity: Psychologists have proven the brain doesn’t like to work hard. Human beings take the path of least resistance. Complicated words are an invitation to tune out. Multiple concepts or stories create confusion or chaos that causes stress to the hearer. When stressed, humans take shortcuts. For radio stations, the shortcut is punching the button. Keep it simple – and clear.

Use Action Words: Power words cause a chemical reaction in the brain. Studies show action words cause the brain to release dopamine. Winning words that have the effect are new, now, soon, and secret. Use terms like these to inspire more attention:

  • insider
  • behind-the-scenes
  • confessions
  • a sneak peek
  • the real story
  • the latest
  • up-to-the-second

Colorful Words: Colorful descriptions have a profound effect on how a story is heard. Two groups of people were shown the same video of a car accident. Both were asked how fast they thought one of the cars was traveling when the cars collided. However, one group was asked, “How fast do you think the car was going when it crashed?” Responses averaged 40.8 miles per hour. The other group was asked, “How fast do you think the car was going when the cars came into contact?”. They said 31.8 mph. The word “crash” made a big difference.

Words matter. Watch this short video to be convinced:

 Features Are Brain-Craving Content

Humans try to avoid confusion, which is mitigated by familiarity. The book Hitmakers demonstrates the most important factors in a product, service, or person becoming a hit: Distribution, freshness, and familiarity.

The author shows how great success builds on a foundation of recognition and familiarity. For radio shows, that’s another reason locked-in features are such a powerful weapon. It’s how celebrities like James Corden became famous.

Popular features executed with precision over a period of time create anticipation and expectation, which leads to predictable, repeated behavior. Author Daniel Kahneman says this in his book, Thinking Fast & Slow:

Listeners default to hard-wired behaviors without giving it any thought. For example, when someone sneezes, you quickly respond, “Bless You”. This automatic reaction is a reflexive behavior.

This is yet another argument to focus on great content (episodes) in a familiar package (features).


Brain-craving content happens when personalities deliver creative, colorful segments in a simple, familiar, and easy-to-understand presentation. A clear and simple, yet exciting vocabulary, is key.

As soon as it becomes difficult to understand, listeners are stressed. When they’re stressed, they attempt to get rid of the cause. There are three possible outcomes:

  • Invest the time and effort to figure out what’s going on (unlikely).
  • Ignoring the talk that confuses them (that’s bad).
  • Tuning out (that’s worse).

Change the emphasis from pursuing better (or more) content and chasing more exciting, simpler, and top-of-mind performances.

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