Outdated programming rules are hazardous to radio personalities, but not because the intentions behind these unchallenged rules are misguided. The issue lies in the shallow or faulty thinking that often accompanies these rules. For instance, the adage “Leave The Audience Wanting More” is only half of the statement and it’s causing radio shows to fall short of their potential.
This programming concept, like the One Thought Per Break rule, has been adopted by thousands of programmers, personalities, and even talent coaches. The intent is to ensure talent keeps things “tight and bright”. Focused. Efficient. Short. Every show should be disciplined, with a keen sense of efficient performance whenever the mic is on. But Leave The Audience Wanting More is a shortcut to a short segment, not a good one.
This is another example of programming rules that miss the mark because it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture.
Leave The Audience Wanting More
A three-person morning show recently broached this topic in a coaching session when I suggested there was more “juice in the squeeze”. They had ended a fantastic story at its most engaging point.
The show’s host said:
But I thought getting out early at the first exit was a good thing. Shouldn’t we always try to end on a high point and leave the audience wanting more?
It’s true that given the choice of ending a bit early (Leave The Audience Wanting More) and extending the segment past the listener’s tolerance (“Will they ever shut up?”), getting out early is better. However, this is a flawed programming rule that stems from a programmer’s frustration with shows that have great ideas but poor discipline when performing.
On the other hand, when a story moves forward and remains interesting, it’s not too long. The problem almost always is the result of shallow show preparation and planning, not short attention spans or overly long talk breaks.
Prepare Multiple Angles
Well-developed stories contain layers of talking points that allow the conversation to evolve. Listeners lean in to find out what will happen next and how the story will turn out.
But when a story is nothing more than a premise and invitation to call and contribute (low-hanging fruit content), it’s hard to sustain a storyline.
For example, a show discussing a controversial news story could fall flat if it only presents the story and then immediately asks for opinions. Instead, the hosts could energize the conversation with a real-life application or make a “lightning rod” comment.
As with most things, better preparation is the key to a compelling story at a comfortable pace.
Rushing Doesn’t Fix It
The problem is magnified when a show is well-prepared but rushes through a segment because someone has convinced them that “the clock is ticking” and they feel they have to cram every talking point into three minutes.
Recently, a show introduced eight (yes, eight) emotionally-charged storylines in a six-minute talk segment. Each had potential, but none resonated with listeners because the hosts merely grazed each topic. Nothing “stuck”. It was a wasted break filled with great ideas but they rushed through their talking points.
When limited for time, don’t cram 7 minutes of material into three minutes. Edit the content and let the story breathe. You could then link to the next storyline with a cliffhanger-type tease to extend listening. This is one reason great shows regularly hear comments like,
I was late to work because I had to stay in my car to hear what happened.
Good stand-up comedians have learned that punchlines are funnier when the story leading to the punchline is punctuated with colorful details. Ending a story too soon (jumping to a resolution) is as damaging as a story that is longer than needed.
The key is to right-size it, and that’s hard. Here are a couple of tips for getting it right:
- Stretch the story as far as possible without losing momentum, but no further.
- On the other hand, keep it as tight and efficient as possible, but not shorter than it needs to be.
- Plan multiple mini-payoffs or breadcrumbs. It’s hard to keep listeners interested. Try to include entertaining highlights every 20-30 seconds.
- Don’t leave it to chance, hoping something good will happen. You may occasionally stumble on a magical moment, but there will be far more failures.
Every personality drags a segment beyond the “expiration date” at times, but that’s better than when every break leaves the audience wanting more.
Remember this: The audience is constantly turning over, tuning in and out. They aren’t listening the way programmers and mangers listen. A great story connected across multiple segments with built-in cliffhangers building toward an ultimate conclusion doesn’t get old!
The key to success is striking the right balance between length and engagement. Outdated programming rules, when not fully understood or applied appropriately, can be dangerous. By focusing on thorough preparation, proper pacing, and right-sizing segments, radio professionals can create compelling content that truly leaves the audience wanting more.