Dead Ends and Detours Destroy Momentum [audio]

Dead Ends and Detours Destroy Momentum [audio]

by Tracy Johnson

Dead ends and detours are the most frustrating things on a road trip. But they’re even more destructive on radio shows.

When traveling, two unforeseen things occur:

You come to a detour that routes you in a direction you had not intended. It’s annoying at first, but some detours turn out to be okay. Some even enjoyable. They take you places you would otherwise miss. In fact, some detours can become the highlight of your trip. However, stay on the detour too long, and you never make it to your intended destination.

Another unexpected event is coming to a dead-end. A road block. Dead ends are never a good thing. All you can do is turn around and retreat. It’s impossible to move forward.

The same things happen on the air. They destroy momentum, annoy listeners and turn otherwise valuable breaks into a horrible listening experience.

Avoiding Dead Ends and Detours

On the air, detours happen when you head you down a different path. An idea comes up spontaneously or a cast member makes a comment that shifts the focus of the conversation.

Sometimes you end up with a better break. Hopefully, you find your way back to the path and end up where you had planned. Some shows handle detours better than others.

Most of the time, a strong host/navigator can skillfully direct the break back on path naturally.

Learning improv skills will help in this area.

Dead Ends Are Never Good

Dead ends are comments that make it difficult to continue forward in a direction. I hear it all the time!

A personality asks a rhetorical question and a co-host responds with a definitive answer rather than advancing the story line. Here’s an example:

Host: Man, if it weren’t for the quarterback, we never would have won that game yesterday.

CoHost: Yep. That’s right. He’s really good.

Where do you go with this? It’s a momentum killer. It adds nothing to the conversation.

Closed Questions Are Dead Ends

A common source of dead ends happens during show prep. Personalities often craft a question that doesn’t lead to colorful responses or stories. Closed questions leave the audience without an option for a response that moves forward.

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When you introduce a topic or even a rhetorical question that elicits a Yes or No response, you’re running right into a dead end.

Here are examples of Closed, or Yes/No questions:

“Do you agree with the President’s decision?”
“How would you like to win $1,000?”
“Do you think the Cowboys will win the game tonight?”

Each of these is asking for a dead end.

These, on the other hand, these are open-ended, emotional questions that lead to a more interesting response:

“What would you do if you were the President?”
“You just found $1,000. How would you spend it?”
“What are the keys to the Cowboys winning tonight?”

Difference Between Dead Ends and Detours

There are essential differences between radio personalities, but the ability to advance storylines is a skill that is clearly a big advantage. This is evident in these examples:

Show A is highly engaging, expertly segueing from one topic to another in a single break. They leave me wishing they talked MORE.

Show B works hard, prepares their content and is committed. But they can’t hold my interest for 30 seconds. Their breaks are well structured, they are focused and they get to the point quickly, but put up roadblocks to listening.

The difference is dead ends and detours. The conversation in Show A is like a chain. Their content is linked. They glide from one element to the the next with interesting, lively content. The personalities “open the door” for each other to advance the conversation, maintain momentum and hold interest.

That show is Stu and Angie on Hot AC Majic 100 in Ottawa.

Notice how they transition naturally and easily from weather to a local community event about smoking to personal observation and opinion about teenage behavior.

On the surface, the break is ordinary. It’s routine. But it’s so natural, well structured and brilliant in simplicity. Listen to how smooth they transition and support one another. It’s a chain reaction without a dead end or detour.

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The talent on Show B are conversation killers. Simple comments become dead ends, rather than introducing new possibilities.

I recommended that this show join a local theatre group or take an improvisational acting class. They need to learn to set up other characters, advance conversations through ad-libbing and respond naturally.

How to Avoid Dead Ends and Detours

Before putting it on the air, try your question on a friend, family member or co-worker. Or put it up on Facebook or Twitter.

Pay attention to the response. If you get a short, boring reply, your question is too factual. Rephrase it, and find a way to introduce the topic so it produces an emotional reply.

When you get a good response, practice advancing the conversation, probing for more of their story. Work on it, and soon you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier.


Detours aren’t the end of the road but you get lost. Dead ends are the end of the road, and there’s nowhere to go. Both are hazardous to your show. Pay attention to how you craft content in each break to avoid these common pitfalls.

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