by Tracy Johnson
There’s an old saying: “Be careful what you wish for”. It has applications for radio personalities, too, especially when it comes to open breaks.
Open breaks are segments on a show that has nothing scheduled in advance. The segment is “open” for a personality to create original content. A segment that includes a pre-defined, scheduled element would be a “closed” break. For example, a newscast, entertainment report, contest, game, or regular feature are closed breaks.
Talent seems to think open breaks allow more time to show their personality. Many feel features aren’t part of their show. Some even perform as if features are a distraction.
That, of course, is a mistake. I mean, James Corden doesn’t treat Carpool Karaoke like an annoyance, does he?
When a radio show is relatively new, or inexperienced, the programming team typically imposes tight restrictions on the show. There are limits to
the length of breaks. The show usually has at least one or two primary features to provide structure and consistency.
As the show grows, listeners are more attracted to the station because of the show. That’s normal in the development process.
Over time, the assumption grows that more open breaks are a good idea. After all, open breaks are what the “big boys” do. But there’s a risk of too many open breaks.
Open talk breaks are riskier than personality-oriented features. Great features provide context and familiarity.
Of course, 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. Sorry. I digress.
Radio shows need a balance of structured, anticipated features and well-planned open breaks. Too much of either tilt the balance too far one way or the other.
Here’s how open breaks can damage a show.
Adding open breaks means more original content. That’s not a bad thing. There are plenty of things to talk about. Most shows have far more material than they can use.
But creating great, A-Plus material is hard. What percentage of a show is really, truly great? 20%? 25%?
Removing a strong feature for original material results in an extra break each hour that usually isn’t as good as the feature.
It is almost always at least slightly worse.
Think about it:
If there are 10 open breaks per show, adding two new open breaks increases original content by 20%. And those new segments will be the 11th and 12th best content of the day.
Is that really better than the feature being replaced? Wouldn’t it be better to increase “A” features and reduce open breaks by 20%? Wouldn’t that be stronger?
Most shows are stretched thin and don’t invest enough time in preparing content deeply enough to be truly great. That’s one reason most shows have more B and C material than A and A-Plus content.
What happens when 20% more open breaks are added? I doubt preparation time increases by 20%. The net result is quality on all open breaks is compromised.
So not only are you removing a potentially strong feature, you’re diluting the quality of the rest of the show.
This isn’t a fair statement because features demand preparation too. But building a great segment reuires preparation time to be truly great.
When the formula that produces success changes, the audience is affected.
Adding more open segments may seem like a good idea. It may also change a winning recipe. This is doubly true if you’re also replacing a popular feature.
Don’t assume more of a good thing is healthy. More is not always more. Sometimes more (open talk) is less (appealing).
Don’t replace great features. Please. Especially with open talk breaks.
However, if the features are weak or average, replace them immediately with a better feature. That’s how Disneyland manages their content. It seems to work.
Here’s how to find the sweet spot:
That is a balanced content grid. It’s a strong core structure and enough open breaks for personality to shine. And there’s more time to prepare 8 terrific breaks per day.
There’s nothing wrong with open breaks. Personal stories and organic content is how listeners will get to know and 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.
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