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Beat the Clock for Radio Success

Manipulating the construct of time relative to your content is vital

Let’s see … I’ve got 6 minutes and 20 seconds until the top of the hour, at which point I have to talk for between 30 and 15 seconds before a live network newscast begins. If I mess it up, I’ll sound like an idiot. I only have three songs of various lengths from which to choose. The song I’m playing is nearly over, so I’ve got to decide what I’m going to do within the next 45 seconds.

During my early on-air adventures, I constantly faced this scenario, as many face it routinely today. Not until years later did I realize that understanding and manipulating the construct of time relative to radio content is vital to success.

Show prep at its most basic level is about understanding time. As elementary as this sounds, many on-air talents, and even the occasional program director, can’t — or don’t want to — embrace the significance of the construct.


In music radio, the time allotted to speech is highly regulated; therefore it’s all the more important to plan appropriately.

If a talent has three significant chances to speak each hour and does a four-hour show, she only needs to plan content for a maximum of 12 breaks. If four of those breaks are occupied mainly by promotional content, even less planning is required.

Whatever the number of breaks, it’s clear that advance daily preparation isn’t difficult. So why do so many personalities wing it? One DJ recently revealed to me that she enjoys being spontaneous. The secret not always shared is that the great ones always know where they’re going and they’ve learned how to act spontaneous even when a break is planned and well rehearsed.

For talk and information-based shows, the clock requires an actual “road map” due to complexity of material. No question that this approach, unlike music radio, requires much more effort. The benefit typically comes with a superior show, better ratings and hopefully a significantly higher salary.


How else do we use time to our advantage and how can we improve the effort?

I advise making your own list, but here are a few to get you started:

  1. We give people limited time to enter contests, thereby driving demand. Make sure your talent communicates deadlines clearly, using days instead of dates whenever possible.

    For example, rather than saying “You must enter by Oct. 15,” insist: “You gotta get it done by this Friday at 5 p.m.” This will have more impact.

    Remember to update recorded promos to say “tomorrow” the day before the deadline and “this afternoon at 5 p.m.” the day of the end. Too often, a lazy producer will make one promo and let it run with a date right up until a contest is finished.

  2. Sometimes we tell callers how much time they have to talk (either on- or off-air). This forces callers to condense their stories or points and makes for improved content. It may also help keep someone listening if they know someone really annoying has 60 seconds to make their view know before they’re off the air.
  3. Appointment listening has gone in and out of vogue. I am a fan of the concept when a promotion is done with a lot of frequency the day of the activity.

    Example: Sports stations that focus on an NFL coach’s press conference time after a big game can drive a result.

  4. Seemingly slow down the clock by producing pre-recorded radio shows with amazing content. Have you listened to any of the BBC’s rock documentaries on 6 Music (Channel 6 online)? Find a band you enjoy, listen to an hour-long show and you’ll have to admit that you didn’t realize an hour had passed.
  5. Do you do something different every day at the same time? With the exception of scheduled features — like traffic, weather, news, etc. — make sure your talent is not doing the same bit over and over until the audience is fleeing for relief.

    Example: Amateur talent can take a long time to say hello in their very first break and a long time to say goodbye in their last break. They don’t realize that the same people tire of hearing it daily because they happen to be in the car at that time.

  6. Finally: Make fun of time when you can: “We guarantee 60 minutes this hour!”

The author is president of Lapidus Media. Write to him at [email protected].