How To Overcome Bad Habits and Crutches On Air

How To Overcome Bad Habits and Crutches On Air

by Tracy Johnson

Okay, so this is, like, an article about, ah, all those, um, bad, uh, habits or on-air crutches that Dj’s pick up, you know. Know what I mean? Fix these things and, like, you can be super-better at your, um, job, and stuff. Do you know? Whatever.

All air personalities develop crutches. It may be repeating certain mundane phrases (‘How you doin’ on a Thursday?”), running thoughts and sentences together or even just saying, “uh” or “um” all the time. Inserting “filler” words into conversation slows the pace and gets in the way of communication.

Filler words happen when searching for a phrase or waiting for the mouth to catch up with our thoughts. That happens with everyone, not just air personalities. Soon the habit becomes ingrained and we don’t even hear the problem.

It becomes a bad habit.

And it’s a barrier for listeners. It can get so annoying she may hear nothing else.

On-Air Crutches: Everyone Has Them

I guarantee that if everyone on the air has a crutch or two. some recognize it, others do not. Most of the time someone needs to point it out. That’s another reason a talent coach can be so valuable.

It seems like a small thing but it’s a huge problem.

Kevin Olmstead, who became famous for winning over $2 million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, points out that breaking up a statement with fillers causes a loss in confidence from the audience.

For example, read the following lines:

We’re going to hunt down terrorists and bring them to justice, dead or alive!

Now compare it to this statement:

We’re going to, ah, hunt down terrorists, and, um, bring them to justice, uh, dead or alive.

Imagine the President saying this to the country to inspire confidence in the administration. The first line sounds bold, powerful, and focused. The second demonstrates less confidence, doesn’t it? It sounds tentative and lacks conviction.

Throw Away Crutches

It’s possible to overcome bad habits. It just takes some time and attention.

First, know that they exist, and recognize them for what they are. Kim Welter, a member of Toastmasters and a former English teacher says,

 We seldom listen to ourselves, so we don’t know what the pattern might be,

That’s especially true for air personalities. Most dread aircheck meetings and many rarely listen to their own show. This is another way a talent coach can help. If that’s not a possibility, start a new habit to aircheck yourself and pay specific attention to little things that stand out as crutches.

Once identified, work to overcome bad habits by starting new ones.

Here’s how:


Believe it or not, this works!

Changing the position in front of the microphone can make a big difference. If you normally sit down to perform, stand up. If you typically lean back, lean forward.

Changing little things can sharpen performance because it forces the brain to be more alert.

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Many bad habits start because of repetition. Personalities fall into a comfortable way of performing, almost like being on autopilot. Changing your posture can be a good start for forming new habits.

Slow Down & Relax

Here’s an easy thing to improve: Relax and slow down.

This will improve vocal qualities and allow the brain to keep up with the mouth.

The fastest talker is not a powerful force. Filling each microsecond doesn’t win the biggest prize.

Practice delivering content with a relaxed, powerful conversation, both on and off the air. \

Speak as slowly as needed to maintain a thought without the crutch. As you improve, pick up the tempo. But remember that momentum is more about keeping the break moving forward, not talking faster.


Most crutches are defense mechanisms to fill time. One of the first lessons in radio is that dead air is a horrible sin and you won’t get to the promised land of ratings paradise unless every second is full of sound.

It’s not true.

Making noise doesn’t keep listener attention.

“Uh and um” occur when personalities feel (usually subconsciously) that they have to keep talking.  But pausing can actually add drama and impact to a presentation.

It’s natural to try and fill dead space. But it’s not awkward to the listener. It’s normal.

Pausing is an effective way to break the habit of using the same words over and over. Focus on the one word that is a crutch, and every time you start to say it, pause briefly. Collect your thoughts and move on without the word. This feels awkward at first, but it will help break the habit.


Performing spontaneously is important, but too many personalities take that to an extreme. Plan the structure of each break and visualize the break before trying to say it. Every personality should perform from a position of relaxed readiness.

Some personalities create bullet points or a storyboard to help organize thoughts and manage break flow. If that still doesn’t work, create a script for breaks until the habit is broken. There’s no shame in writing it out. All of Tom Hanks’s lines are scripted. Some personalities actually sound more causal and spontaneous when reading from a script.

And here’s another habit-breaker: Voice-track until the crutch disappears. There’s no shame in reperforming each break until you nail it – without the crutch.


Sometimes habits recur when personalities perform with their head down, eyes closed, or staring straight ahead at the microphone. Change it. If on a multi-personality show, make eye contact with cohosts. If a solo show without cohosts, fake it. Some personalities have mannequins (and one has a blow-up doll-don’t ask) in the studio. They feel more natural with someone to talk to.

If that feels weird, tune a television to a channel with talking heads, and make eye contact with them or mount a poster on the wall. Speak directly and making eye contact to help eliminate distractions.

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Breaks often get off track when personalities try to do too many things at once. Even when a break is well prepared, air personalities don’t pay attention until a few seconds before the mic goes on.

Stop trying to multitask. Focus on the next break. It will make a huge difference.

If you’re thinking about the next segment, the next song, the next element…or worse, texting a friend…habits will be very hard to overcome. And they may become worse.

On Breaking Bad Habits

Finally, realize that these crutches are just bad habits. To fix the problem, understand how habits work!

It’s far more productive to work on developing new (good) habits than trying to correct a previous bad habit. So keep it positive. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Question everything, but don’t overthink it. It helps to list bad habits. Next to each, write a new good habit that can replace it.
  • Changes may take time to set in. So work on breaking one habit at a time.
  • When an old crutch is overcome, focus on the next one. Pretty soon, you’ll have gone through the whole list.


It takes discipline and attention to detail to get rid of bad habits, but you can do it!

The result: You’ll come off as more confident, more prepared, and more credible.

Try it and let me know how it works for you. [email protected]

Thanks to The Blade for examples and help in creating this article. Click here.

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