You’re familiar with on-ramps and off-ramps. On-ramps are how drivers get onto a highway or freeway. Off-ramps are the exit. Radio shows have on-ramps and off-ramps, too.

In this metaphor, the freeway is content. Listeners are drivers. And in this situation, the road is a toll. The longer the driver stays on the road, the better it is for us. The goal is to get as many people on the road and keep them there for as long as possible. Then, we want them to come back and drive again!

On-Ramps and Off-Ramps

The goal should be to design on-ramps as attractive, accessible, and easy ways to enter the main road. And off-ramps should be few and far between to make it more likely a driver will continue.


On-ramps include everything from the time a personality begins talking until the topic is introduced and established. This includes the handshake, where a host transitions from the previous element (often a song) to a different type of content (usually a talk break). But it extends further, to important pieces of content that are far more valuable than idle chit-chat.

Here are some examples:

  • Name Tag Personalities. Most of the audience doesn’t know your name. Frequently identify who’s who and position each cast member’s character traits.
  • Reset Topics. Listeners are constantly tuning in and out. most didn’t hear or don’t remember what you did in the last segment, let alone a reference to a story from last week or last month.
  • Explain A Contest Or Game. No matter how many times you’ve played it, never assume the audience gets it.
  • The Premise of a Popular Feature. Sure, Second Date Update has aired at the same time every day for five years. That doesn’t mean listeners understand how it works.
  • Connecting emotionally to a song…not just a back-sell


Off-ramps are content that drives listeners away from the radio or prevents them from becoming engaged in the content. Avoiding off-ramps is a key to retaining listeners and extending TSL.

Here are some examples:

  • Commercials are the most obvious off-ramp and the greatest source of tune-out. Most every station plays some commercials, so this is largely unavoidable. But you can create clocks that minimize the damage.
  • A weak song or even an average, passive song will send listeners to the scan button quickly to see what else is on. In today’s low-attention-span world, every song should be a hit, not just an average-tester.
  • The perception of too much talk is another problem. This has nothing to do with the length of a break, but whether or not the time invested is worth the content. When personalities take more time than necessary to get to their point, fatigue builds. And that’s another off-ramp.
  • Confusion is the #1 cause of listener erosion. When listeners can’t figure out what’s going on, they leave. That includes talking on top of one another and conversations that move too quickly.

Three Steps To Take Now

Here are three things every personality can take immediately to increase the chances of retaining listeners and avoid sending them away:

  • Tighten the performance. Efficiency is one of the most valuable of all skills. Learn to master word economy without sacrificing personality.
  • Visualize each segment before turning on the microphone. How will it end? What is the goal? What emotional connection will be made? A clear picture of the intended performance will help keep the segment focused.
  • Consider the listener’s experience and match performance to their environment. Too many shows perform from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in.


Novelist Brad Meltzer published hist first book in 1997. The main point of the book arrived on page 40. That meant readers had to get through 39 pages before getting to the “good stuff”. That’s a big on-ramp. Meltzer learned his audience will not wait. He says:

We have no patience for page 40 anymore. It’s like, ‘Grab me in the first chapter … or the first sentence.’

On-ramps and off-ramps work together. Creating attractive on-ramps and discouraging off-ramps should be a basic goal of every radio show. Invest time and attention to polishing the skills to make listeners feel welcome and included (on-ramps) while working hard to avoid the primary causes of tune-out (off-ramps).

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