The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

by Tracy Johnson

Why do program directors limit talk breaks? They’re usually not just trying to show who’s boss. There is usually a good reason. Every time a talk break begins, the station enters a high-risk zone. And that’s a scary place to be.

The risk is real. Every time an entertainment element changes, listeners are far more likely to change stations.

It drives programmers crazy because they can control most things. But they can’t control what comes out of an air personality’s mouth. That’s why the mic goes on and their stress level rises.

It reminds me of a quote from Fran Lebowitz, a journalist from three 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 of each break is real. As soon as a personality starts talking, the potential of tune out increases.

It’s not because talk is weak or personality is bad. It’s because the listening experience is disrupted.

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

Why Talk Enters The High-Risk Zone

Here’s why there’s a problem.

When launching a break, 100% of the existing audience is happy with what they’re hearing. Or at least not unhappy. They’re still tuned in, right?

So the song or the newscast that’s been on has held all current listeners. Anyone who doesn’t like what’s happening has tuned out.

And you’re about to change that. Change invites re-evaluation. When things change, the risk of tune out is highest. No matter how strong the personality is, changing the environment is risky.

There’s also a scientific reason listeners seem to resist talking on music-based stations. It has to do with how the brain processes information. Get details on it here.

This happens, to a lesser degree, every time a song changes. The next song may not be as popular as the last, or it may be a different genre. So there’s a tune-out risk even when transitioning song-to-song. But it’s still music, so the risk is lower. And the program director can control it. So song-to-song management becomes a lower priority.

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The Hand Shake

Personalities can navigate the high-risk zone with an on-air handshake. This is a greeting that makes listeners feel comfortable in a changing environment.

Shaking hands is an important part of a relationship. It breaks the ice when meeting someone.

You don’t call a friend and immediately start a conversation without a short greeting to say hello first.

And it’s an important part of the transition on the radio. Take a couple of seconds to break the ice and connect before launching content.

Now, don’t want to spend too much time with small talk. There’s also a risk of not getting to the content quickly enough. The 7-second challenge is a real thing.

But it doesn’t take long to shake hands, which will minimize the high-risk zone.

How To Shake Hands

There are many ways to shake hands on the air, including:

Reference The Music. Don’t perform in a vacuum. Leverage the high-quality content surrounding talk breaks. it makes the transition smoother.

Thank Them For Listening. Just being polite and thanking listeners in an authentic way builds a bridge and helps personalities be perceived as more likable.

Relate to a Mood. Reflecting what’s happening in the listener’s life, at this time, in their market, helps the transition. It shows that we are connected with how they feel. I call it IZE-ing content.

Putting Personality Into the Basics. Many personalities rush through repetitive content like weather and positioning statements. That usually happens early in a talk break. And it sends the signal that it’s time to turn out. Every element is an opportunity to entertain and show personality.

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Acknowledge The Audience. Just mentioning a listener’s name in a mini-story makes personalities sound friendlier, more likable, and less intrusive. And it absolutely wins fans. Listener shout outs are incredibly valuable.

Get more details on how to shake hands on the air here.


These seem like small things, right? The goal for every personality is to be likable, warm, and relatable. If 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. How will this affect tomorrow’s performance?

The 7 Second Challenge Is Real

Add Color To Every Break By Ize-Ing Content

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

Do More Music Morning Shows Work?

How Much Should A Radio Show Talk?

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