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 an advantage. Lately, she’s challenging programming “rules” her PD has in place, specifically about the best way to open a talk break. She wants to know if it’s best to always start with station basics or be creative.

There are few absolute rules. Most of the time, programming rules are shortcuts rather than a set of standards to encourage excellence. That’s why guidelines are more effective. Yet some programmers insist that the only way to open a talk break is:

  • Identifying the station.
  • Selling the positioning statement.
  • Promoting a key benefit for listening.

They believe this repetition causes the station brand to creep into the consciousness of the audience and make it more memorable, but it usually just leads to a string of words that lack meaning or impact.

The other extreme happens mostly in PPM markets. Some actually feel that branding no longer matters since meters credit all listening. This is not only incorrect, but it’s also dangerous.

How To Open A Talk Break

Both philosophies are somewhat valid but both miss a much more important point.

  • Radio shows can’t afford to waste the listener’s time. Quickly getting to the point with a fast hook is the right idea but abruptly launching into a topic or segment isn’t the answer. There needs to be a bridge to get from one element to the next. Think of it as a verbal handshake, Without a transition, listeners feel like they’ve been assaulted by a personality rushing into a topic.
  • Branding is important, even in PPM markets. It’s true that meters measure actual listening even if listeners even know the station. But audiences constantly tune in and out. When they tune out, stations with higher recall get tune-in. Poorly branded, positioned, and promoted shows are soon forgotten.
  • Regurgitating the same words and phrases at the start of a talk break becomes background noise and isn’t heard, especially when personalities rush through the basics. In some cases, it even signals “tune out” as listeners become numb to the redundancy.

The Solution

Like most things, the answer is to find creative ways to accomplish both goals without reciting the exact same words when opening a segment.

Personalities should make it a priority to perform with the conscience of a listener. Remember, the majority of listeners tuned in at the end of a song are enjoying it. So doesn’t it make sense to recognize the song and showcase the station and format benefits as if you mean it?

Get through the high-risk zone at the beginning of each segment quickly, but not to the point of losing your humanity. Respect the listening environment, then transition naturally from one element (music) to another (talk).

On the other hand, PDs should coach personalities to shine a spotlight on the most important format and brand elements of the radio station in a creative, genuine way. Simply instructing them to read the liner card verbatim won’t accomplish the ultimate goal of elevating the station experience.


Most programmers standardize actions, which makes it easier to monitor and administer. But radio performance is an art and tight rules are restrictive. Blending art with science seems like combining opposite concepts, but many of the greatest artists in history use science (and math) to inspire their work. When the two work together, magic happens.

For more details on how to get into talk segments effectively, check out the seminar on demand Mastering The Set Up. Here’s a preview:


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