How To Break For Commercials At The Right Time  [audio]

How To Break For Commercials At The Right Time [audio]

by Tracy Johnson

Radio stations need to re-evaluate when they break for commercials. I’m not talking about clock management or format execution. This is about enticing your audience to give you one more quarter hour, regardless of where the stop sets fall.

PPM programming has changed how radio programmers set up clocks. Some are improvements. Others are not. The biggest negative has been that programmers are applying the science of clock management with little regard to the art of leading listeners into longer TSL.

There are simple things you can adjust to make stations more effective.

This is how most radio segments are constructed:

  • Radio personalities launch a story.
  • They talk through all angles.
  • They find a payoff (sometimes), or at least an exit.
  • Then they go to commercials.
  • In the next quarter hour, they start over again.

On the surface, that’s not a bad formula, because it’s tightly structured. It’s focused, and self-contained. Plus, it fits into the short attention spans of listeners.

But sometimes, wouldn’t it be better to break for the spots at the most dramatic moment of the story?

Break For Commercials At High Drama Points

The best TV shows always break for commercials at a point of high action or drama. They know tune out  is most likely during spots, so they provide a cliffhanger to lure the viewer to stay (or fast forward) through the ads to find out what happens next.

The most effective way to increase current ratings is to get more listening from those who are already tuned in and already like you! Doesn’t it make sense to harvest that attention to get another quarter-hour or two?

For instance, couldn’t you:

  • Establish a solid hook.
  • Set up the story with emotional content.
  • Lead the listener to a dramatic high point.
  • Tease what’s coming next.
  • Break for commercials just as interest is highest.
  • Pay off the end of the story immediately after the stop set…or at your next break a few minutes later.
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This strategy gets them through the things they may not want to hear to get to the end of something they do.

When You Break For Commercials Impacts PPM

This flies directly in the face of some PPM programming wisdom, which calls for personalities to get in and get out quickly. Programmers emphasize the importance of each break being self-contained. Personalities are taught to pay it off, tease the next segment and move on.

But when you do this, you start over with a new audience. Every time.

Modifying your approach could allow your show to initiate your next segment as the payoff to a previous one. And, it breaks your stories into shorter segments, which is very PPM programming friendly.

It also makes your show sound faster, which is not measurable, but very real.


Here’s an example of how it sounds in real life. This is Radio Hall of Fame members Jeff & Jer.

The first segment features Jerry telling a personal story from his life:

Notice how the story builds, adding layers of intrigue (drama). Then, at the point of highest anticipation, they tease what will happen next. This creates expectation. If you’ve made it this far, you’re not tuning out. Or, if you do turn to another station during the commercials, you’re coming back!

Here’s the conclusion:


It seems that many shows launch a great topic and just as it ends, the best calls come in. Planning your breaks differently can make it possible to use that great caller. Have your producer or phone screener get an idea of what the call is about. Then tease what they are about to say or use them to come up with an entertaining different angle on the same topic and tease it “coming up next”. This adds momentum to your break, and leverages existing listeners.

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Once the listener is hooked, they will listen more. It pays off in a big way. Just getting one more quarter-hour has a dramatic effect on your time spent listening. In fact, coaxing one more quarter-hour per day and one more tune-in day per week can double your ratings.

And that, of course, is a very good thing.

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