The old saying: “Be careful what you wish for” has applications for radio personalities, especially when it comes to open breaks vs. segments with planned features. Open breaks are segments with nothing rescheduled, leaving it “open” to create original content.
On the other hand, a segment that includes a pre-defined, scheduled element is a “closed” break. New content is created for the content container. Examples include a newscast, entertainment report, contest, game, or regular feature.
Talent seems to think open breaks allow more time to demonstrate personality than features. That is, of course, incorrect. James Corden doesn’t treat Carpool Karaoke like an annoyance, does he?
Evolving The Show Over Time
When a radio show is relatively new, or inexperienced, it’s common to impose limits on the length of breaks. This is good programming, especially for shows in Stage 1 or 2 of the Personality Success Path.
It’s also smart to develop at least one primary feature to allow the audience to get to know personalities inside a consistent structure.
As the show matures and the relationship with the audience grows, listeners hopefully become attracted because of the personalities. That’s normal in the development process.
Over time, programmers and talent often assume that more open breaks are a good idea. After all, open breaks are what the “big boys” do. But this is risky.
The Risk of Open Breaks
Open talk breaks are riskier than personality-oriented features. Features provide context and familiarity and are highly promotable. And best of all, features can attract new listeners. Even dominant, well-established personalities attract less than 60% of their own station’s cume to their show.
The key is balance. Overloading a show with too many features is paralyzing. That would be like a diet consisting of only Deep Dish Sausage Pizza. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but it’s probably not healthy. Delicious, yes. But healthy? No.
Radio shows need a balance of structured, anticipated features and well-planned open breaks.
Damage Caused By Too Many Open Breaks
Adding open breaks means creating more original content, which is not a bad thing. There are plenty of things to talk about. But creating “A” material is hard. What percentage of a show is really, truly great? 20%? 25%? Maybe.
Assume a show has four personality-oriented breaks in an hour. Two of those are anchored with a strong feature. Replacing one feature performed each hour with organic content results in an extra break that almost always will be weaker than the feature it would replace.
Think about it:
If there are 8 open breaks per show (two per hour x four hours), adding one new open break per hour (4 in all) increases original content by 50%. That is a lot of new materaial.
Wouldn’t it be better to increase the “A” features and have fewer open breaks?
Plus, most shows are already stretched and don’t invest time to prep deep content as it is. So what happens when more open breaks are added? I doubt preparation time increases by 50%. The same amount of time spent preparing is now spread over more open breaks. And the quality of each segment is compromised.
So not only does a potentially strong feature disappear, the quality of the show is diluted.
Finding A Balance
This isn’t just about the value of winning features. It’s more about creating great moments on the radio. Don’t replace great features. Please.
However, if the features are weak or average, replace them immediately. Start by looking for a better feature. That’s how Disneyland manages its content. Each attraction is a feature. It seems to work for them.
Here’s how to find the sweet spot:
- Identify the one daily, entertaining, appointment feature that is a strong anchor for the show. Is it perfect? If not, try to improve it. Then schedule it a lot. Like every hour.
- If the primary feature is well established, develop a second one. Perfect it. Then play it a lot. Like every hour.
- If there are more than two regular features (not counting information features), get rid of all but the best two.
- If not airing primary features every hour, program them at least twice per day. That’s 2 features x 2 airings = 4 breaks/day.
- Now schedule information features. If there’s one information element per hour x 4 hours = 4 breaks/day.
- Count the remaining breaks. Most shows have four breaks per hour. In a four-hour show, that’s 16 breaks. That means 12 closed breaks and 4 open breaks.
That is a balanced content grid. There are defined containers and enough open breaks for personality to shine.
There’s nothing wrong with open breaks. Personal stories and organic content is how listeners will fall in love with radio personalities. But be careful what you wish for.
Use every break as an opportunity to shine, whether designated an open break or not.