Programming Analysis: Is Talk Bad?

Programming Analysis: Is Talk Bad?

by Tracy Johnson

Analysis is killing some great moments on the air. And it’s holding back some radio stations. More specifically, programming over-analysis is crushing many air personalities. Reaction to ratings data and research has led many broadcasters to ask, “Is talk bad?”.

Let’s look at it another way.

Reliable data tells us that if our diet consists of four Big Macs per day, with super-sized fries and a large chocolate shake, and we don’t exercise, we’ll become obese and have a high likelihood of heart disease. Science can tell you the percentages and exactly what will happen.

That’s not the diet that caused Jarod to lose all that weight! Yes, I know Jarod was Subway, but you get the point.

So, applying the logic of an overly analytical PD, he/she may suggest that eating one Big Mac per day would result in 1/4 the risk. This is, mostly ridiculous. There is a threshold at which the risk becomes dangerous. Extrapolating data from the whole is inaccurate.

This is exactly the type of logic many programmers are enforcing on air talent.

Programming Over-Analysis: Is Talk Bad? Really?

PPM ratings information provides data showing that talk is bad. Never mind the fact that the data itself is highly suspect. Add the results from a perceptual research project that claims listeners want a lot more music with less talk, and the evidence points to a clear conclusion. But then, when you examine the questions asked, you understand why the audience responds as it does.

The “Is Talk Bad” question applies to DJ’s who don’t have anything to say. Or they have a point but don’t know how to present it. In that case, it’s as unhealthy for quarter hours as four Big Macs a day are for your heart.

The problem is extrapolating the principle and applying rules to limit breaks to 15-20 seconds (or 30) seconds. They’re trying to limit the damage. If the goal is to give the audience what we think they want, why wouldn’t you just remove the air talent entirely? Oh, yeah. We have to run the live endorsement commercials and promoting this week’s remotes.

Talk Calories

Eliminating the “talk calories” can result in losing momentum. Personality doesn’t emerge, let alone thrive. The overall listener experience is sacrificed and stations become little more than a collection of songs with some chatter that adds “empty calories”.

It takes more time and expertise to coach talent so they become an asset to the brand. And time is a precious commodity at many stations.


Reaching and retaining a target audience depends on a healthy, balanced programming diet. Taking the burger and fries out of your station’s menu may be technically “healthier” by definition, but there’s a negative cumulative impact resulting in generally less satisfied listeners.

Because one Big Mac is delicious.

All things in moderation, please!

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