Are You Punching Listeners In The Face?

When you think about it, many air personalities are rude. In the interest of brevity, we rush into content to get off to a quick start. And when we reach a high point, we suddenly bail on the break. Those are important principles. But not if it comes at the expense of being warm, friendly human beings. There’s an art in knowing how to shake hands on the air. And saying goodbye.

Randy Chase programs K-LOVE and AIR 1. He coaches his talent to find the right balance by teaching this principle:

Did you shake their hand or punch them in the face?

What It Means To Shake Hands On The Air

Imagine you’re a party. You walk up to a group of people engaged in a conversation and interrupt by launching a story:

Guys drive me crazy because they never listen.

Okay. That’s a pretty strong hook. Then you proceed to tell your personal story to develop your topic.

You’ve disturbed their mood by inserting your personality into their circle. They’re overwhelmed, and probably think you’re rude. It’s like walking up to the group and punching them in the face.

You didn’t shake hands to enter the conversation. Now, you’re thinking about the 7-second challenge. It’s true that it’s important to gain attention immediately or risk losing it. But we’re sacrificing human connection by rushing into content.

When launching a break, imagine the audience in an active conversation. They may be singing along with a song you’re playing or interested in the newscast that was on. Or, they could be going over their kid’s homework on the way to school.

When you turn on the microphone, you’re inserting personality into their world.

PPM Is Making Us Rude

Our reaction to the ratings system is part of the problem. PPM programming philosophy is to remove everything that doesn’t have to be there. We make it efficient, but it’s no longer human.

We’re PPMing personality to death. Blurting out content isn’t being tight or focused. Being tight is about not wasting time or boring the listener. It’s not about getting it on and gone as fast as possible. Those short spurts of interruptive talk is rude.

Ending The Story and Walking Away

The other end of the break is also a problem. Talent is so focused on taking the first exit, they often miss great moments. And they leave the audience wondering why they stopped talking and walked away. You still need to shake hands on the air when you say goodbye at the end of the break. It’s polite.

I hear so many breaks that end on a high point, but leave the story unfinished. That’s fine if the content is crafted into a story arc and is teased to the next break. But it’s not about getting out on the first exit. It’s getting out on the best exit.

It’s like telling a story, making them laugh, then turning and leaving the room.

Programmer Matt Cleveland at Bell Media’s cluster in Fredricton, New Brunswick says,

Getting out on the first high point is the new talk up the intro of the song and nail the post. It doesn’t matter. It is celebrated only by the jock on the air.

It’s like Seinfeld’s George Costanza walking out after delivering a good line.

Get out at the right time, and use it to build momentum. Make that group of people beg you to stay and tell more stories. If the audience is engaged, take advantage of that peak to build forward momentum on the show.


Being tight, focused and efficient are great disciplines for personalities. But don’t be so focused on short that personal connection is lost. Think about ways you can shake hands on the air.

There are many ways to inject personality and friendly comments into a show. I call it “ize-ing” your personality. Use those to your advantage.

As an air talent, try to avoid punching listeners in the face and walking away without saying goodbye.

By Tracy Johnson

Recognized as one of America’s most innovative radio programmers and managers, Tracy Johnson’s broad background in traditional and digital media spans more than 25 years and has influenced hundreds of radio stations, programmers and personalities. 

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