For several years, I worked as a consultant in the field of communications training, focusing on the structure of verbal communications to maximize audience impact. Given my background in this field, I’m amazed by how few broadcasters have no idea about how an on-air break should be structured to achieve maximum impact with the listener. This is a very complicated discussion, comparable to Football great, Coach Vince Lombardi, who actually ran 3-day seminars on how to execute an end run, so for brevity in this video, we will consider only three different on-air break styles and consider what they are, why you would use them and their impact on the audience.
Irstly, identifying the breaks themselves: the first would be up to four seconds; the second, breaks between four and seven seconds, and thirdly, brakes longer than seven seconds. Let’s start with the easy one, breaks, less than four seconds.
It an established fact that it takes about four seconds for an individual to actually hear that an on-air personality is doing a break, and process the content, so brakes that are less than four seconds are simply too short to have an impact to be considered a factor in listener retention, and fall into the subliminal category because it’s highly unlikely that the listener will have any conscious awareness as to what the content of the break was. This has several advantages in the world of broadcasting, because you can use it to deliver your message without interfering with the station flow. When I was running CJRP. We use this technique to brand the station. Most the time that was delivered over the fadeout from one song, tight to the intro of a second tune, so from the listener’s perspective, there was no break in the musical flow, yet we were able to deliver powerful branding messages.
The second length of break, between four and seven seconds, is the tool that should be the mainstay for any on-air personality working in a music format. Regrettably, most stations today have chosen to deferred this critical task to packaged jingles, removing the personal contact that a host brings and losing potential current information which listeners are striving for. The advantage of the break running longer than four seconds, is that the listener becomes consciously aware of the content and can react to what is being said, offering the broadcaster the opportunity to pass on information that you want the listener to respond to, maybe something like “Fred will be here at four this afternoon with more great music”. This style of break has a very specific and important role in today’s media. The critical component here, is to keep the break to less than seven seconds because at the seven second mark, the listener has had enough time to determine whether they want to continue to listen to the break or to dial out to another radio station or audio source. The longer you go, the more likely you are to erode listener retention. This 4 to 7 second break is ideal when you’re looking for longer information pieces which are still short, like a brief weather forecast, a short promotion for something upcoming or any number of other topics which the station needs in its overall branding package.
The third length of break that stations use, are brakes that are longer than seven seconds. I know that in some stations, it’s routine for some air staff to talk on for lengthy periods of time, and certainly this style of break has a place in personality radio, but not in a time slot that is striving to brand itself as a music platform. The key component of running a break longer than seven seconds, is that the listener will hear the content, determine whether they’re interested in the content, and possibly make a choice to move to an alternate audio source, because of they either were not interested in the topic or, even worse, it’s too complicated to remain meaningful for humans, who have an incredibly short attention span. This means that if you’re going to use longer breaks, you have to be very careful about your choice of topics and phraseology. Staying on topic, in today’s talk-radio environment, it’s standard formatting for stations to deliver six detailed weather forecasts an hour. Compare that to music formats, where the number drops to two or three, and in some time slots vanished entirely. It would seem to me that if a music based station wanted to pull a larger audience, it would make a lot of sense to attack the talk radio format by introducing more frequent, occasionally longer weather forecasts. I’m not suggesting here that a 30 or 40 second weather forecast is a good idea at this rotation, but rather that a 15 second summation of what the weather of the day is going to be, certainly would be a huge asset to the surveillance information the station is offering. One of the concepts that we introduced at CJ RP, about five years ago, was the concept of using the intro time on the music for the delivery of this sort of information. The good news here is that your break can be longer, because when it’s over top of the music, the listener absolutely knows that your host will have finished their break, hopefully, before the vocals hit on the song. Again, when structuring a balanced clock for music-based radio station, this technique offers the opportunity for increased surveillance information while maintaining a high music count through the hour. Be warned, It takes a little bit of time to get announcers to develop a feel for this sort style of delivery, as most of them have been trained on much more relaxed formats.
Overall, time spent with your on-air staff, either as a group or individually, is well spent when you focus on breaks, their position and content. I remember way back when I was first in radio, and we were junior announcers, trying to figure out what the optimum way to deliver information was, we were told by our Station Manager that that the best approach was to do the expected thing in the unexpected way. Words that appeared to have vanished for most broadcasters today.
Thank you very much for joining me for this video, it give any comments about this video, where the so-called fourth wave of radio, feel free to drop me a note to Bob@radioinsider.net.