Programmers and personalities have the same goals: to capture listener attention and command more TSL (time spent listening). The problem is finding common ground in executing the plan in talk segments. Programmers focus on being short but should be more concerned with being tight. Short and tight are not the same thing.

Research shows listeners won’t put up with too much talk. And it’s true. The audience won’t tolerate personalities who talk too much. But what is too much? 5 minutes? How about 3? 2? Maybe 30 seconds is too much. What’s the right length?

So programmers assign an arbitrary time and impose strict rules not to talk longer than xx. But there’s a better way to coach talent. Breaks that don’t connect are too much talk, regardless of length.

Short and Tight


Some classic movies are over 3 hours long. But they’re tight. Nothing is wasted. Others are 90 minutes long and seem like they’ll never end.

How many pages should be in a book? Enough to tell the story, but no more.

If the goal of songs were to be short, Stairway To Heaven, American Pie, and Bohemian Rhapsody would never have been released.

Here’s the problem: Programmers think they can mitigate a “talks too much” issue by shortening breaks. But that’s not the point. Tight breaks should be the goal, regardless of length.

This is about razor-sharp verbal editing and focus. Some breaks are rushed as talent tries to cram 7 minutes of content into a 3-minute window. Then there are shows lacking discipline that stretch 3 minutes of content into 7.

Tight and short are different. Shortness can be measured with a stopwatch. It’s objective, but tightness is subjective. It means taking as much time as necessary but no more.

Coaching Tight

In an aircheck session, the program director played a break, looked at the talent, and said:

Do you know what I like about that break? It was short.

All the air left the room. Coaching for mechanics (How long is the break?) instead of performance (How good was the break?) drives personalities crazy. And rightfully so.

Maybe this will help. Here are guidelines for personalities:

Prep To Find The Essence: A tight break starts with identifying the topic’s essence and focuses on telling a colorful story. Eliminate details that don’t support the essence. Study this example by comedian Louis CK here.

Trim Needless Facts: Eliminating useless details leaves room to explore key points that support the story’s essence in greater detail.

The Three E’s: Exaggerate, Embellish, and Enhance the remaining talking points to make the story come alive. Follow the guidelines for the Three E’s of storytelling here.

No matter how short the time restriction is, learn to create great art (performance) on a small canvas (short break). It will serve you well when the canvas gets larger.

For programmers:

Coach Effective Communication: Focus on how breaks can be effective, not short. Chances are, it will naturally result in shorter segments.

Stop Emphasizing Segment Length: It sends a message that personalities are in the way of what listeners want. That’s not true. Instead, show personalities how to be efficient and concise.

Prepare Tight, Perform Loose: Focus on prep. Be flexible in execution but rigid in process. The goal of avoiding wasting the listener’s time in the prep process will guide performance.


If you take nothing else from this article, remember this:

A break should be as long as it needs to be…and no longer. And it should be as short as it can be…and no shorter.

Isn’t that a more productive, positive approach than taking out the stopwatch?

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