I work with an air personality that is always striving for excellence. She works hard to be at the top of her craft, always seeking little things that provide an advantage. Lately, she’s questioning (but not challenging) the programming “rules” her PD has put in place. She asked about the best way to open a talk break: Always start with the station basics or be creative?

There are few absolute rules. Most of the time, programming rules are shortcuts more than a set of standards to encourage excellence. That’s why guidelines are more effective. But guidelines are harder to manage.

That’s one reason programmers dig in their heels and insist that the only way to open a talk break is by identifying the station, selling the positioning statement and promoting a key benefit for listening. They reason that this sears the station brand into the consciousness of the audience to be more memorable.

The other extreme comes from PDs in PPM markets. Many feel branding no longer matters since meters credit all listening.

How To Open A Talk Break

There is logic in both programming philosophies. But both miss the more important point. Here’s why:

  • We can’t afford to waste the listener’s time. PD’s that encourage talent to quickly get to the point with a fast hook have the right idea. But abruptly launching into a topic or segment isn’t the answer. There needs to be a bridge from one element to the next. Think of it as a verbal handshake. Without a transition, listeners are left feeling like they’ve been assaulted by a personality rushing into a topic.
  • Branding is important, even in PPM markets. Meters measure actual listening, whether or not listeners know what station it is. But audiences constantly tune in and out. And most have no idea what station they’re listening to. So when they tune out, stations with higher recall get more tune in. If a show is poorly branded, positioned, and promoted, the audience will forget about you.
  • But simply regurgitating the same words and phrases at the beginning of a break soon becomes background noise and isn’t even “heard” by the audience. That’s especially true when personalities rush through the station, positioning, and their name. In some cases, it signals “tune out” as listeners become numb to the redundancy.

The Solution

As with most dilemmas, the answer is neither black or white. It’s in the middle. There are creative ways to accomplish both goals without reciting the exact same words when we open a talk break.

Personalities should learn to perform to the conscience of the listener, which starts with respecting the listening environment. Then quickly transition from element (music) to another (talk). This is a critical transition I call this the high risk zone when personalities open a talk break.

But it shouldn’t be so tight that we lose humanity. Rushing through station basics does nothing to make a connection to the content, especially when it doesn’t sound genuine.

Every personality is responsible to make the important. Few great personalities are on bad stations. And the majority of the audience tuned in at the end of a song are enjoying it. So doesn’t it make sense to play into that interest by showcasing the station brand and format benefits in the best possible way? Like you mean it?

On the other hand, PD’s need to be practical. Simply saying the same words over and over has never convinced listeners of anything. They don’t even hear it. Get creative. Coach personalities to shine a spotlight on the important format and brand elements of your radio station. Then trust them be creative with it.


Most programmers love to create systems. Standardizing repetitive actions makes it easier to monitor and administer. But radio is show biz, and when art is involved, rules are restrictive. Personalities should learn to make their station famous by applying creative skills. Programmers should coach talent to use their unique abilities to build a great radio station.

Art and science seem like opposite concepts, but many of the greatest artists in history use science (and math) to inspire their work. When art and science work together, magic happens.


How to Perform With the Conscience of the Listener

Programming Rules That Make No Sense

Guidelines Are Better Than Rules

A Complete Guide To Opening Breaks With Strong Hooks

Why Hooks Matter: The High Risk Zone of Every Talk Break

It’s all About The Hook eBook

Quick, Easy Ways to Test Hooks And Teases

6 Types of Hooks To Improve Opening Lines



Subscribe to Receive the Latest Radio and Personality News