The 4 Things That Drive Listeners Crazy

The 4 Things That Drive Listeners Crazy

by Tracy Johnson

There’s a thin margin between compelling, exciting and interesting entertainment and chaos that sends the audience reaching for the scan button, but there are two things that drive listeners crazy and cause the greatest damage.

We cover both of these in  detail in the Content Superhero webinars, but it seems obvious every time we gather more information from listeners.


When they can’t follow the conversation, they simply tune out. Confusion comes from several sources:

Talking over one another is a huge problem.

Watch CNN when they have a large panel discussion on a news topic or political debate. As soon as the cast starts talking over one another, the moderator (usually Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer) immediately steps in and sorts it out. They even say,

One at a time. We lose viewers when everybody talks at once.

And that’s on TV. On radio, listeners are blind. They can’t see you, and can’t figure out who’s talking. When personalities talk at the same time, it challenges the audience to figure out what’s going on.

Then the talent starts talking faster and louder, and it gets worse. Talent must learn to listen and respond. That means some of your great lines may not make it into the break, but your break will actually be heard.

Here’s a direct quote from a listener in a focus group for a client:

Wow. What was that? There’s so much happening, and it just doesn’t make any sense.  No way I’m listening to that.

Talking at the same time isn’t the only problem.


A music bed played too loud competes for attention. Too many produced sound bites are hard to follow. A highly produced effect or big intro with talent talking on it is hard to hear. Playing audio drops, especially if they’re out of context, add to the confusion.

Being tight is important, but too many audio drops are edited so tightly they’re on and gone before the listener can process it. And many are never showcased on the air.

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Sudden Topic Changes

Shows reacting to a distracted world by rapidly changing topics and moving from one story to another aren’t getting the point. They’re only adding to the confusion.

When your show discusses every story in the entertainment report or a newscast, it all runs together. The topic changes rapidly and the audience simply can’t keep up with the discussion.

When transitioning from one story to the next without shifting gears (vocal tone, tempo or production), they can’t keep up. You may think it’s a good idea to move quickly, but most of the time the effect is rushing everything into a mass of chaos.


Listeners have high expectations. It’s becoming clearer every day that the bar has been raised for creating great entertainment t in every single break. You can’t afford to just go through the motions…ever. Average is a tune out. And when listeners are disappointed, they tune out.

Here’s another direct quote from a listener after hearing a well-executed break, but one that didn’t resonate:

I was interested in that story but they had nothing to add to it.

Just choosing the right topics is meaningless. That’s information that is readily available and it doesn’t deliver value. What is your interpretation, perspective, point-of-view and insight? In other words, don’t just inform…entertain.

Even in focus groups, where they’re paying close attention to the audio, they quickly become bored. It’s common to hear,There was no point.

It was boring. Who cares?

Why don’t they just play another song?

The comment about playing another song doesn’t really indicate a preference for more music, but rather that they just don’t care about the content.

Here’s another direct quote:

They sound like they get their topics from Yahoo. It’s just random, shallow crap that nobody really cares about.

Lists, facts, human interest stories, regurgitating the latest Youtube sensation and rehashing yesterday’s game is no payoff. How are you using those resources and tools to excite and delight the listener? Are you well prepared? Have you mined the topics to create an emotional connection?

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Be More Than a Sound Bite

Too many radio shows are like athletes in an interview after a big game. They provide a sound bite that they played hard, will take it one game at a time and have to keep working hard to do what they can to help their team win.

Air personalities must be more than the predictable. Another listener says:

It’s refreshing when a personality comes out and says it like it is, and says what they think, whether I agree with them or not. They’re not afraid to be politically incorrect. That’s why Donald Trump’s in the race. (Personality) is an a-hole 97% of the time, but speaks from the heart. He’s stimulating. He’s never boring.

In other words, you have to be big, bold and colorful, and unafraid to exaggerate. This will keep you out of the zone of mediocrity.

The microphone is just a tool, and you are a craftsman. The mic doesn’t entertain. It’s just a worthless piece of electronics. Without you, it’s just like a plane without a pilot.

Personalities, like the craftsman, are, without question, difference makers.


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