The Breaking News Syndrome: How to Get Attention For On-Air Segments

The Breaking News Syndrome: How to Get Attention For On-Air Segments

by Tracy Johnson

If you want to turn up the volume on listener attention, give them a warning! Breaking News is a tactic you see in media everywhere. It adds immediacy and interest to what’s about to be presented.

Breaking News sends a message that something important is coming. A new development is happening. It’s not just part of an ongoing story, or a detail being added. It’s more important than saying, “This just in…” or “Here’s the latest on…”. It adds drama.

You can create the same sense of urgency to your show by applying the Breaking News technique. For one thing, you can apply it to any information segment you’re delivering. That might include a news story or a new weather forecast.

For example:

This just in: A new weekend forecast-It’s not what you were expecting.

A breaking news report on the accident on Highway 67…and how long you’ll be stuck.

Breaking news this morning on Kim’s latest drama with Chloe.

But creating as sense of urgency can be as simple as calling attention to something you’re about to do in a more dramatic way. It can turn up the volume on importance by alerting your audience to your content.

Alerts and Warnings

Sometimes, it’s not even breaking news. It’s setting up your audience to pay close attention. What’s your reaction when you see something like this on TV:

CAUTION: The following clip contains graphic images that may not be appropriate for all viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

You know that these warnings are not sensitive network precautions, but rather clever teases to ensure that nobody changes the channel. If your’e like most people, you get the message that “this is going to be good.” You have to find out what’s going on. It piques your interest.

Jeff & Jer Warn Their Audience

When I coached Radio Hall of Famers Jeff & Jer, we targeted adult women, mostly parents of young children. As a result, our station was sensitive to their desire for entertainment that was safe to listen to with kids in the car. We wanted to be the Disneyland of radio Nothing bad happens at Disneyland. It’s safe and happy for families. It’s non-threatening, but never boring.

Yet, I fielded complaints about the show nearly every day. Usually it was because of an ultra- sensitive mom. Sometimes they complained about a different show, attributing it to my station because we were their “favorite” (that’s awesome, by the way!). So I challenged Jeff & Jer to find a way to satisfy their concerns without changing the content of their show.

Their solution was brilliant.

They created a cautionary alert.Whenever the show was about to do anything more than a G-rating, they preceded it with a warning. Jeff would say something like this:

Okay, we know you’re probably driving to school with kids in the car right now, and we have to apologize in advance because Uncle Jerry is about to do something you may not want your kids to hear. So if that’s going to bother you, you need to turn the radio down, turn it off, or even turn it to another station for the next 3 minutes or so. Then it’ll be safe to come back.

Sometimes Jeff would even suggest the station they should tune to. usually the soft AC station he knew they’d find boring. I remember times he even turn the station on over our air in the background to demonstrate it.

This was so smart for three reasons:

  • It was a warning that we were going to the “edge” of our boundaries. This immediately defused the complainers.
  • By sending listeners to the “boring” station, it sends a subtle message that if you can’t handle what they were doing, you were boring. And he did it in a non-threatening way.
  • It was a great tease for what was coming up. It’s like putting the CAUTION message on television. It didn’t run listeners off our station at all. Rather, it caused those tuned in to turn it up.

It created attention and provided a sense of urgency for our audience.


Radio needs to create more urgency on the air. Adapting some of the Breaking News lessons can be highly effective.

Use these techniques, but add them to your show carefully. If you start hyping every piece of content as Breaking News, the audience will soon become immune to the impact. You’ll be like the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Still, apply the techniques as much as possible in subtle, creative ways. Your time-spent-listening will be greatly enhanced.

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