The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

by Tracy Johnson

Do you know why your PD limits your talk breaks? Because every time a talk break begins, the station enters a high risk zone. It drives them crazy because they can’t control what comes out of your mouth. The mic goes on and their stress level rises. And many punch the button. They’re gone before you have a chance.

It reminds me of a quote from Fran Lebowitz, a journalist from decades ago:

Radio news is bearable. This is due to the fact that while the news is being broadcast, the disc jockey is not allowed to talk.

That may seem unfair. But the high risk zone is a real thing. And it’s not just because they can’t control your content. As soon as you start talking, the chances of audience tune out increases.

It’s harsh, but it’s not because your talk is weak or personality is bad. It’s because you’re disrupting the listening experience every single time. And any talk that fails to relate to the audience is too much talk.

Why Talk Enters The High Risk Zone

When launching a break, 100% of the existing audience is happy with what they’re hearing. Or at least they’re not unhappy. They’re still tuned into your station, right? So that song you’re playing, or the newscast that’s been on have managed to hold all of the current audience. 

And you’re about to change that. And change invites re-evaluation and increases the chance of tune out. The content that has held the audience has changed. And no matter how strong your personality is, that change will run some folks off the station.

This happens, to a lesser degree, every time the song changes. The next song may not be as popular as the last song, so there’s tune-out risk. But it’s still music, so the risk is lower.

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Music Is Background. Talk Is Not

But there’s another reason your talk break is a high risk zone. In general, radio is a background medium, especially on music formats. The active audience is engaged in something else in the foreground. They could be going over their kid’s homework on the way to school. Or thinking they’re going to get yelled at when they get to work. Or just daydreaming about the weekend.

And you just entered into their space. You’ve imposed on them. Because talk can’t be relegated to the background like music is.

When you turn on the microphone, you’re inserting yourself into their world that was going along just fine without you.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t important. You ARE. But you’re still imposing on a positive experience.

The Hand Shake

That’s why a transition into your content is so important. I call it the on-air hand shake. Shaking their hand is an important bridge to get them from one piece of content to another.

Politicians know the value of shaking hands (and kissing babies), looking each individual in the eye and saying their name. And you can do the same on the air.

There are many ways to shake hands, including:

Thank Them For Listening. Just being polite and thanking them in an authentic way builds a bridge and makes you more likable.

Relate to Their Mood. Reflecting what’s happening in their world, at this time, in their market helps the transition. It shows you are connected with how they feel.

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Putting Personality Into the Basics. Don’t just rattle off the weather and positioning statement. Use it to entertain and show your personality.

Acknowledge The Audience. Sometimes, just mentioning listeners names in a mini-story makes you more friendly, likable and less intrusive.

Limiting Risk Is Easy

Shaking hands is an important part of any relationship. You don’t call a friend and immediately start a conversation without a short greeting. There’s a couple seconds to break the ice and connect before it starts.

Now you don’t want to spend too much time in small talk or shaking hands. There’s also a risk in not getting your content hook in quickly. The 7-second challenge is a real thing. But you don’t need much time to transition.

All it takes is a little time and attention to detail in each break.


These are small things, but don’t assume that small things don’t matter. The goal for every personality is to be likable, warm and relatable. If you’re not, your content doesn’t have a chance to find it’s audience.

If you imagine that every time you open a break, how will it affect the way you open a break?

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Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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