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 short-circuit your ability to entertain? Every radio personality in history, from Ryan Seacrest to Howard Stern,  believes they need and deserve more freedom to talk longer and/or more frequently. But those PD’s and managers just hold us back. Don’t let those restrictions become obstacles in your success path. The format clock has nothing to do with your ability to entertain.

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 for us to compete with?

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

Does talent blossom because restrictions have been lifted or has the format clock loosened because talent has demonstrated that 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

In the meantime, use every opportunity to deliver great personality in each break, no matter how long it lasts. Your goal should be to blow the audience away every time you turn on the mic. That pays off in ratings, builds more fans and over time leads to career growth.

Yet, time restraints are real barriers, and there are many personalities who are capable of doing so much more, but management holds them back.

What if that’s you? There are several things you should understand that to help work through barriers.

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Break Length

The length of time needed to entertain your audience has nothing to do with your ability to entertain. Don’t let it get you down.

Every artist has restrictions. A painter’s canvas may be 3″x5″ or it could be the side of a building.

Art is expressed within the confines of the media in which it is created. Great personalities can make it happen in 7 seconds if that’s all the time you have. Sure it may mean that some of your great comments can’t be used, or you have to refine your angle a bit. That should just make the break sharper and even better.

As you craft your personality to the restrictive format, you’re honing basic performance skills. This will serve you well when the leash is loosened, because tight and efficient delivery is never out of style.

More Prep

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

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

The same applies to your show. If your format allows four 30-second breaks per hour and 3-4 song intros, you will have to work harder to craft your content for a tight 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 you’ll communicate in an entertaining way. It pays off in audience attention. Do it enough, and you’ll earn more freedom. Or, you’ll attract the attention of another station that sees your potential.

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Take advantage of every single opportunity. 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 the break.

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

If you have a 12-second song intro to entertain, then kill it for 12 seconds. If you have 12 minutes, it better be great. You don’t have to use all of it! Listeners respond to a good show, not a long one!

Every moment counts. Every second is important. Use your platform. Each time the mic is on is an opportunity to engage the audience. Take advantage of it every single time.


I’ve heard thousands of 10-second breaks that were too long. And I’ve heard 11 minutes that’s too short!

Yeah, it would be great to have more time to demonstrate your personality. But instead of dreaming of what you’d like it to be, figure out how to make the most of what is.

Rise above the restrictions and perform your art with flair and color.

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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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