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.

For one thing, it drives them just a little bit crazy because they can’t control what comes out of your mouth. The mic goes on and their stress level rises.

For another, nearly every PD has research that shows listeners tune out when personalities start to talk. 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. By a lot!

It’s not because your talk is weak or personality is bad. It’s because you’re disrupting the listening experience every single time you turn on the mic.

And any talk that fails to relate to the audience is too much talk.

Why Talk Enters The High Risk Zone

Think of it like this:

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 that’s about to change. And change invites re-evaluation and increases the chance of tune out. The content that has held the audience has been replaced by something they aren’t so sure is a good thing. 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 a 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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It also happens the other way. At the end of a talk segment, 100% of the audience tuned in is with you. So that transition to something different is critical.

Music Is Background. Talk Is Not

But there’s another reason a 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 a child’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 have entered into their space. You’ve imposed on them. Because talk can’t be relegated to 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 content is so important. I call it the on-air hand shake. Shaking their hand is an important bridge to get 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.

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.

All of these help with the transition. So does having a strong hook

Hooks Limit Risk

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.

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But still, you don’t want to spend too much time in small talk. There’s also a risk in not getting your hook in quickly enough. Just as you would be annoyed with a friend who won’t get to the point, listeners have little tolerance for personalities that get too long-winded without saying anything.

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 seem like small things, right? But put yourself in the listener’s world. The goal for every personality is to be likable, warm and relatable. If you’re not, the content doesn’t have a chance to find an audience.

Find a way to build bridges from music to content and back again, without taking too much time.

Imagine it each time you open a break. How will it affect tomorrow’s performance?

The 7 Second Challenge Is Real

All About Generating Great Hooks

eBook: It’s All About The Hook

It’s All About The Hook Seminar on Demand

How To Shake Hands On The Air

The Science Behind Why Listeners Reject Talk

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