If It Doesn’t Target Emotions, It’s a Bad Hook

If It Doesn’t Target Emotions, It’s a Bad Hook

by Tracy Johnson

Listeners make fast decisions. Like it. Hate it. It’s for me. It’s not for me. We all know that attention is at a premium. You have 7 seconds to hook the audience and get them interested. I call it the 7 second challenge. But even if the hook is fast and to the point, it doesn’t mean listeners will be compelled to continue listening. That’s why hooks have to target emotions.

Listeners are greedy, selfish creatures. They choose to listen or leave based on emotional, not logical, responses. And it’s hard to make a connection because of the way the human brain processes information. Basically, humans are hard-wired to tune out air personalities because it competes with whatever they’re doing in the foreground. You can read more about it here.

That doesn’t mean talk is bad, or personality radio is doomed. It just means that the hook is super important to get listeners interested in what’s to come.

And that’s why the opening line that connects to a feeling provides a greater chance of leading listeners deeper into a break. Logical and informational hooks are a waste of time. Hooks that target emotions are the only way to tilt the scale in your favor.

How Hooks Target Emotions

Obviously, starting an interesting break with a provocative hook is a good idea. And it’s easy to understand that appealing to emotion is a good idea.

But what does it mean to target emotions?

What type of hook provides the best chance of grabbing attention? There are dozens of emotions to target, of course. Primary emotions are diagrammed in Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions:


But even this wheel is probably more emotions than any personality wants (or is able) to target. So let’s simplify it by focusing on Plutchik’s 8 core emotions:

Target Emotions: Fear/Safety

This may be the most powerful motivator. Television newscasts rely on this to attract viewers with terrifying teases.

It’s common to hear teases that provoke fear, like this:

Will your children may be exposed to a potentially deadly virus…at daycare?”

It gets attention by sounding an alarm. This type of hook challenges the listener’s comfort zone. This is an extreme example, but you get the idea.

You might also like:  It's All About The Hook Seminar on Demand

By the way, for each emotion, the opposite can also be a target: Safety and reassurance that all is okay is also a strong emotion. That may fit your personality brand better, and the appeal is similar.


Anger inspires audiences, and is often used by talk shows to cause outrage. Hyperbole and extreme points of view stir an emotional spark that can provoke action and reaction.

Do you remember the classic movie Network? The television anchor, played by Peter Finch, created a passionate following with his phrase, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”


The same approach works today for hosts and personalities.

Hooking the audience with a quick line that causes instant anger may be polarizing, but it will lure an audience into the content.

Target Emotions: Sadness/Joy

It’s dangerous to target sadness too much because it can be depressing and affect the brand image. For the most part, listeners tune in the radio to escape their problems.

But appealing to sympathy or empathy can be a powerful way to enter a break when the time is right.

I’ll never forget the Monday morning after Princess Diana died (August, 1997). That morning, Jeff & Jer started their show saying,

If you’re like us, you’re not feeling very good this morning. And we just can’t do our regular show. So if you want to talk about what happened, maybe we can be each other’s support group.

They didn’t even mention Diana’s tragic accident. Didn’t need to. The phone rang all morning. Powerful.

The opposite of sadness is joy. There’s something contagious about celebration, hope and a positive outlook. Starting a break to cause the audience to feel good should be a primary goal. And this is sustainable!


Hope fits with joy, but connects to the associated feeling of anticipation. Hook the audience by getting them to anticipate what’s ahead and give them a sense of good old fashioned feel-good hope…and you win.

Great hooks add expectation, intrigue and the feeling that something good, or at least interesting, is on the way.

You might also like:  Radio Personalities and the 7 Second Challenge

Most personalities should learn to master this emotion more than any other.

Despair is similar to fear, but more depressing. Tread carefully!


Making a new discovery can also be a strong hook, as long as it’s about something that actually matters to them. Information with mundane facts isn’t exciting.

Unless you’re in the business of breaking news, ignore the information. But suggest a surprise discovery and there is a great chance of keeping listeners tuned in.

For example

How would you like to have your SUV drive you to work each day? We’re one step closer, and it’s going to rock your world.


The brain makes decisions at warp speed. Keep these key emotions in mind to give yourself the best chance of keeping listeners through a break.

For more details on how to create powerful hooks, check out the seminar on demand: It’s All About The Hook or download the eBook here.


The 7 Second Challenge

It’s All About The Hook Seminar on Demand

eBook: It’s All About The Hook

Tons of Resources About Creating Great Hooks

The Science Behind Why Listeners Reject Talk

The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break


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