How To Shake Hands On the Air [audio]

How To Shake Hands On the Air [audio]

by Tracy Johnson

When you think about it, many air personalities are rude. In the interest of brevity, we rush into content to get off to a quick start. And when we reach a high point, we suddenly bail on the break. Those are important principles. But not if it comes at the expense of being warm, friendly human beings. There’s an art in knowing how to shake hands on the air. And saying goodbye.

Randy Chase programs K-LOVE and AIR 1. He coaches his talent to find the right balance by teaching this principle:

Did you shake their hand or punch them in the face?

What It Means To Shake Hands On The Air

Imagine you’re a party. You walk up to a group of people engaged in a conversation and interrupt by launching a story by bluriting out:

Guys drive me crazy because they never listen.

Okay. That’s a pretty strong hook. And it probably will lead to an interesting story.  But the mood is disturbed  by inserting your personality into their circle. They’re overwhelmed, and probably think you’re rude. It’s like walking up to the group and punching them in the face. They think you’re a social freak.

That’s not how most of us would behave in real life. Instead,we would make a point to integrate into the group. It’s more likable if you shake hands to enter the conversation.

Now, you’re thinking about the 7-second challenge. It’s true that it’s important to gain attention within the first few seconds or risk losing the chance to gain attention. But we’re sacrificing human connection by rushing into content. 

I hear the same thing happen when a personality goes to a phone call with listeners. They edit the call tightly, often resulting in the caller appearing without an introduction.

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When launching a break, imagine the audience in an active conversation. They may be singing along with a song or interested in the newscast.

When you turn on the microphone, you’re inserting personality into their world. Find a way to make a transition.

PPM Is Making Us Rude

Our reaction to the ratings system is part of the problem. A popular PPM programming philosophy is to remove everything that doesn’t have to be there. We make it efficient, but it’s no longer human.

We’re PPMing personality to death. Blurting out content isn’t being tight or focused. Being tight is about not wasting time or boring the listener. It’s not about getting it on and gone as fast as possible. Those short spurts of interruptive talk is rude.

Ending The Story and Walking Away

The other end of the break (the pay off) is also a problem. Talent is so focused on taking the first exit, they often miss great moments and a chance to promote upcoming content. The audience is left wondering why they stopped talking and walked away.

You still need to shake hands when you say goodbye at the end of the break. It’s polite.

I hear so many breaks that end on a high point, but leave the story unfinished. That’s fine if the content is crafted into a story arc and teased to the next break. But it’s not about getting out on the first exit. It’s getting out on the best exit.

It’s like telling a story, making them laugh, then turning and leaving the room.

Programmer Matt Cleveland at Bell Media’s cluster in Fredricton, New Brunswick says,

Getting out on the first high point is the new talk up the intro of the song and nail the post. It doesn’t matter. It is celebrated only by the jock on the air.

It’s like Seinfeld’s George Costanza walking out after delivering a good line.

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Get out at the right time, and use it to build momentum.  If the audience is engaged, take advantage of that peak to build forward momentum on the show.

High Point/Brand It/Tease Forward

Here’s an effective technique to apply. Hit the high point, brand your show/station and tease forward.

The Freddy Mac Show (The Fox 105.3/Fredricton) uses branded imaging elements as a transition. Freddy hits the branding element, stamps the break and comes off the back end with a short tease forward. This transition tease is powerful.

This technique sounds great on the air and is polite to listeners. It’s a natural way to end the story and excuse yourself from the conversation. Even better, it allows Freddy to promote an upcoming segment at the right moment.


Being tight, focused and efficient are great disciplines for personalities. But don’t be so focused on short that personal connection is lost. Think about ways you can shake hands on the air.

There are many ways to inject personality and friendly comments into a show.  Use each opportunity to your advantage.

As an air talent, try to avoid punching listeners in the face and walking away without saying goodbye.

Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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