5 Things That Bring Your Break to a Screeching Halt

5 Things That Bring Your Break to a Screeching Halt

by Tracy Johnson

Just like a road trip, there are two things that take radio breaks off course: Dead Ends and Detours. Both are equally dangerous, as described in more detail here. But what are the causes that keep the audience from engaging with you? There are 5 things that bring your break to a screeching halt.

It’s pretty common for personalities to get off topic and allow breaks to get stuck in a circular pattern. It happens to every show from time to time. However, it’s far more common on some shows more than others. You can probably feel it when it happens.

It’s impossible to prevent it, but you can recognize it and get back on track quickly.

Usually you hear it in one of these 5 things:


When you just don’t know when enough is enough and keep going to hit one extra punchline, momentum is killed.

A second (or third, or even fourth) punchline is fine. In fact, mini-pay offs are like dropping audio bread crumbs. And that’s a critical part of leading the audience through your content. But when the break reaches the high point-the end-and you go for one more pay off, it’s like slamming into a brick wall at 100 mph.

If you have multiple punch lines, great! Just be sure that the last one is better than the previous. Prepare each break so that each punchline leads to a conclusion. That will help build momentum toward an end point.

Then find that high point and get out!

Phone Calls

Air talent love to go to the phones. In some cases, it sounds like we want the audience to do the show for us. Look, I love phone calls on the air. But only if the calls add to the entertainment value.

When the call doesn’t move a storyline forward, it destroys momentum. And that happens mostly when we take one too many phone calls. Everything is going along well, but that one extra call adds nothing new and suddenly the whole break feels heavy. It bogs down.

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You can protect against this by designing topics to attract stories, not responses. For example, asking listeners “What’s your favorite food for a party?” Is going to lead to boring, “who cares” responses. And each call is going to sound like the last: “My favorite food is _______ because ________.” Each caller will be repetitious.

But if you rephrase the topic to “Party food disasters…what did you plan and what went wrong?”, you’ll generate stories that can add color to your topic.


Multiple personality shows face unique challenges to stay on track and avoid bringing a break to a screeching halt.

This usually happens when cast members are unprepared, aren’t paying attention or are thinking more about what they’re going to say than supporting the storyteller.

You hear it when a personality is leading a break, and telling a compelling story. They say something that reminds another character of their own personal story. And the break goes off-topic. It’s a detour. It may be well-intentioned, but it doesn’t matter. The audience is confused and it’s hard to get the break back on track.

It can also happen when there are one too many stories told in a break. Even if you wait until the “right moment”, that next, related story probably isn’t going to be more compelling than the first. And both suffer.

It’s not hard to protect against this, but it takes discipline and attention. Each cast member should become proficient in the art of “listen and respond”. Be in the moment and react naturally. Polishing your improv skills will help in this area.


The fourth mistake personalities make is stacking one too many topics in a break. This usually happens from poor story development in the preparation process.

Effective breaks usually happen when we drill deep into the topic to find an emotional essence. That means finding the story inside the topic.

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When you find the story, you will discover that most aspect of the topic are irrelevant. You can (and should) eliminate them. This narrows the focus of the topic and makes it much easier to keep the audience engaged. You’ll also find that it allows more of your personality to come through.


Finally, breaks reach a screeching halt when there are too many details that don’t advance the premise of the story.

Descriptive, colorful details are essential in building your story. But if the details point the wrong way, the story bogs down and is hard to follow.

Avoid the Screeching Halt

Each of these five things cause breaks to become too complicated. And listeners become confused. And when they’re confused, they get bored. That leads to a loss of attention. Then: tune out.

When forward momentum is lost, breaks deteriorate quickly. This kills personalities because the content may be great, but attention is lost.

Once you have listener attention, there’s no guarantee that you’ll keep it. That’s why moving forward is so important. The instant a segment bogs down or stalls, it’s been on too long.


Fixing this problem takes time, attention and practice. But it starts with recognizing when it happens. That happens with evaluation and review. Spend time in air check sessions on focusing your breaks and identifying what adds to the break and what doesn’t.

As you turn your attention in this area, you’ll become sensitive to it and will begin to feel it on the air.

Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

For more than 30 years, Johnson has been developing on-air superstars that attract fans, retain audiences and generate revenue.

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