Each Radio Break Must Have a Destination-Stay on the Path to Payoff!

Each Radio Break Must Have a Destination-Stay on the Path to Payoff!

by Tracy Johnson

No matter how good it is, if content doesn’t move forward, listeners move on. Every break must have a path to payoff, or its doomed to failure.

Now don’t misinterpret this conclusion. Many of you will assume that moving forward means  talking faster or louder. Or putting a music bed behind it.

Momentum is all about energy, not shouting or hyping or rushing.

It also has nothing to do with the length of breaks.It’s about efficiency.

The Path To Payoff

Listeners get bored easily and quickly. The longer it goes, the greater the risk of tune-out and greater the pressure to deliver higher quality content. As the break is extended, you’re playing with fire because it’s harder to keep moving forward.

Remember the Seinfeld episode when George learned to take the first exit and get out on a high note?

It’s the same with listeners. Each talent must develop an internal clock in the host’s head that acts as the conscience of the listener.


Here are some common things that take you off the path, and kill otherwise great breaks:

One too many punch lines.

One joke is great. A second can be even better, but it has to take the break to a new height. A third punchline? You’re being George Castanza.

One too many phone calls.

Listeners can add momentum and character to the show, but when you take one too many, it is counter-productive. If they’re not adding to the entertainment value, they’re taking away from it.

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One too many stories.

On multi-personality shows, some personalities feel that they have to contribute or they aren’t valuable. They force their example into the break and it often destroys momentum. If your contribution adds a new dimension, use it. If not, save it for another time, especially if the story is similar to another that has been shared.

One too many topics.

It’s possible to transition from one topic to another, but one too many topics in a break becomes confusing.

Path To Payoff Disrupted: An Example

Here’s an example of a great break just going too long.

This is from the first seminar in the Content Superhero series, What Causes Tune Out.

Look at the graph below. This is moment-by-moment audience response to the first two minutes of a break. The research was conducted by Strategic Solutions Research.

This is an episode of a popular feature What Are You Doing at the Courthouse?

EKG courthouse ekg 2 minutes

It’s fantastic. There’s a quick hook, the story holds interest, and they reach a perfect exit, a high point. This is a valuable break. But this is just the first two minutes.

They keep going. And it gets off the path to payoff. Look at what happens when we look at the entire break, including the last two minutes after the exit:

EKG Courthouse full EKG Graphic

The break decays, with interest sinking well below the score of an average song on the station (the solid white line).

So what happened in this break? Here’s how it sounded so you can see and hear the response moment by moment.

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It’s great, until it stretches for one (or two) extra punch lines. And those punch lines are similar, adding nothing to advance toward a higher payoff.

Remedy For Path To Payoff

All of the content in this break is actually quite strong. The problem is that when they reached the high point, that first exit, the rest of the break wasn’t as well received.

This could have been three separate breaks, each edited into episodes. Each break could have featured unique content leading up to a common punchline-the great story about the guy buying cigarettes.

Now they’d have three breaks to play in one show, each slightly different, but all with the same strong payoff. And, building even more equity for the feature.


Finding the exit, and being alert to take it, are critical in maintaining listeners. In fact, going for one too many punch lines is one of the six most common reasons listeners tune out.

Take the exit. It’s much better to end on a high note!

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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