Why do program directors limit talk breaks? There are some good reasons but behind tight talk rules is a fact: Every time a talk break begins, the station enters a high-risk zone, and that’s a scary place to be. When an entertainment element changes, listeners are far more likely to change stations.

This drives programmers crazy because they can control music, promos, and imaging but can’t control what comes out of an air personality’s mouth.

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.

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.

Why Talk Is In The High-Risk Zone

When launching a talk segment, 100% of the existing audience is happy with what has been on. Or at least not unhappy. They’re still tuned in, right? The song or newscast has held all current listeners for the last few minutes because anyone who doesn’t like what’s happening has already tuned out.

However, when the mic goes on, that experience changes, and change invites listeners to re-evaluate their choice. This is the moment of truth. It’s “fight or flight” time for listening decisions. It’s the moment when the risk of tune-out is highest.

There’s actually an interesting scientific reason listeners resist talking on music-based stations. It has to do with how the brain processes information. Get details here.

That doesn’t mean talk is bad. It just means that when programming changes, the risk of tune-out is at a peak, and it happens in every transition from one element to another. The greater the change (as in talk disrupting music or music disrupting interesting talk), the greater the chance of leaking audience.

The Hand Shake

Personalities can navigate the high-risk zone by mastering two techniques:

  • First, learn to enter the segment with an on-air handshake. This is a greeting that makes listeners feel comfortable in the changing environment. Take a couple of seconds to break the ice and connect before launching into a topic. Now, don’t spend too much time with small talk. There’s also a risk of not getting to the content quickly enough. The 7-second challenge (the maximum length of time to retain attention) is a real thing, but it doesn’t take long to shake hands, which will minimize the high-risk zone.
  • Launch the topic with a strong opening. The first two lines are the most important part of every talk segment, so prepare this with creative intensity. For details, check out our seminar on-demand Mastering The Set Up.

Sadly, these two concepts are a weakness of the majority of radio shows.

How To Shake Hands

Shaking hands is essentially a bridge from one type of content to another. There are many ways to shake hands getting into a talk segment. Here are a few

  • Reference The Music. Don’t perform in a vacuum. Connecting to what the audience enjoys makes you more likable.
  • Thanks For Listening. Being polite and thanking listeners authentically builds a bridge and helps personalities be perceived as friendly and warm.
  • Relate to the Mood. Reflecting on what’s happening in the listener’s life, at this time, in this city, helps. It shows that we are connected with how they feel. I call it IZE-ing content.
  • Inject Personality Into the Basics. Many personalities rush through repetitive content like weather and positioning statements. That usually happens early in a talk break and sends the signal that it’s time to turn out.
  • 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 can be incredibly valuable.

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


These seem like small things, right? That’s true. But together, it means a lot.

Find a way to build bridges from music to content and back without taking too much time. For more details on how to open talk breaks, check out the seminar on-demand Mastering The Set Up. Here’s a preview:

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