The Format Clock has Nothing to Do With Ability to Entertain

The Format Clock has Nothing to Do With Ability to Entertain

by Tracy Johnson

Does the format clock prevent air personalities from being able to entertain the audience?

Every radio personality in history, from Ryan Seacrest to Howard Stern, believes they need and deserve more freedom to talk longer and more frequently. Frankly, I agree with some of them. Many programmers paralyze talent by focusing on reducing talk in favor of more music.

Still, those restrictions are real, and talent has to adjust what they’d like to do in favor of what they are required to do.

Personalities: Don’t let barriers become obstacles in growing along the Personality Success Path, a natural and necessary process for building relationships with listeners.

The truth is: The format clock has little to do with a personality’s responsibility to entertain.

Format Clock Restrictions

Working with a morning show recently, the topic turned to familiar territory:

Our competition is allowed more freedom to talk for longer periods of time. Isn’t that an advantage that will be hard to compete with? What can we do?

It’s a great discussion, but one that usually ends in a chicken or egg debate:

Does talent blossom because restrictions have been lifted or has the format clock loosened because talent has demonstrated they have content so compelling that programming changes are needed?

For the most part, air talent has to earn the right to talk more. And that doesn’t come from convincing the PD or GM to loosen the leash. Permission comes from the audience. When it’s time to talk more, they let you know. And a smart manager will respond by adjusting the clock restrictions.

Ability to Entertain Is Up To You

It’s possible to have more personality without adding more talk. It just takes more time in prep and planning.

Every personality should use every opportunity to deliver great entertainment in each break, no matter how long the window for entertainment.

The goal should be to blow the audience away every time the mic is on. That pays off in ratings, builds fans and leads to career growth.

Time restraints and clock restrictions are real barriers, and there are many personalities capable of doing much more. In many cases, programmers and/or managers hold them back.

Is this the situation you’re in? Are you frustrated because there’s not enough time to entertain?

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Here’s how to work through barriers.

Break Length

The length of time needed to entertain has nothing to do with the ability to entertain. Don’t let it get you down, and don’t hide behind it as an excuse for an uninspired break.

Every artist has restrictions. A painter’s canvas may could be the size of a postage stamp or the side of a building.

Art is expressed within confines of the media in which it is created. Great personalities can make it happen in 7 seconds if that’s all the time available. Sure it may mean some great comments can’t be used.

That should just make the break sharper and even better.

Of course, there is a limit. Many song intros are very short. That’s even more challenging. But the are adjustments to open windows for personality performance.

Use it as a building block to future growth. Crafting personality to a restrictive format hones basic performance skills. This will serve you well when the leash is loosened because tight and efficient delivery is never out of style.

More Show Prep

Brief content demands more preparation, not less. A famous presidential speechwriter once told the Commander-in-Chief,

If you want a 10 minute speech, I can whip that out for you in half an hour. But a five minute speech will require significantly more time.

If the format allows four 30-second breaks per hour and 3-4 song intros, more time in show prep is required to design content for a tighter window.

It’s hard! But don’t use it as an excuse to fail to connect with listeners. It’s still a show, not a shift. And it’s your show.

Write, re-write and work out how to communicate in an entertaining way. Do it enough, and more freedom will be earned. Or, you’ll attract the attention of another station that sees and will develop all that potential.

Use Each Opportunity

Take advantage of every single opportunity to entertain.

I’ve been in many meetings where management focuses on imposing limits to personality breaks. Their goal is to keep the station moving forward without too much talk.

But “too much talk” is rarely because of too little entertainment. It’s almost always because there’s not enough great material to fill a break.

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It’s like jamming 3 minutes of content into 7 minutes.

If there’s a 12-second song intro, kill it for 12 seconds. If it’s a 12-minute window, it better be great. And you don’t have to use all of it!

Listeners respond to a good show, not a long one!

I’m not suggesting it’s easy, or right. What I am saying is to adjust. Don’t look at it as restrictions on creativity, but a chance to tell stories that fit into the time available. Do it consistently, every day, every hour and every break,

This changes the approach to the show, doesn’t it? It’s a “glass-half-full” attitude that allows talent to see possibilities rather than barriers.

And, over time, something interesting happens: Popularity will increase and the PD will start relaxing clock restrictions.


I’ve heard thousands of 10-second breaks that were too long. And I’ve heard 11 minute segments that are too short!

Yeah, it would be great to have more time to perform. But instead of dreaming of what could be, figure out how to make the most of what is.

Rise above the restrictions and perform with flair and color.


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