Stay relevant. Stay fresh. And don’t make your show a ”by invitation only” party. If you do that, all debate on voice break duration can come to an end and you can send that Program Director with the stopwatch into retirement.
Several studies have been made on the attention span of listeners when it comes to voice breaks. Most of them come to the conclusion that spoken content can only last between 2 and 3 minutes before the listeners start losing interest.
Analyzing 300 voice breaks on both CHR and AC stations in seven countries, and not only looking at duration but also content type, subject, mood, and style, we have come to a different conclusion: setting a simple time limit on the voice breaks is too narrow minded and will not make spoken content any more successful.
In other words: a bad voice break that keeps within the time limit normally accepted will still perform worse than a great voice break that lasts ”too long”.
Don’t Shut the Door
The first key factor we have isolated in our search for ”good voice breaks” is extroversion. It’s probably fair to say that most of us have tried tuning in to a radio station where the talent were having a great time amongst themselves: Teasing and, laughing very vividly at each other’s jokes.
Even one-man shows can turn introvert when the talent gets too busy talking about subjects that are simply only interesting to the talent themselves. On a general level opinions and ideas from a single host can be fine, as long as the subject is not too narrow and the breaks are spiced up with sound bites, a phone interview, perhaps the result of an online poll, or even a call from a listener.
Putting numbers on content always involves a subjective selection process, but with that disclaimer in mind, we found that introvert breaks are twice as likely to underperform as extrovert breaks. And that extrovert breaks on average perform a staggering 20% better than introvert breaks.
The blue line shows average listening in this hour – and the red one is the precise listening for the hour.
Two long voice breaks worked very differently; one boosted listening – the other made it drop. Guess which one was the introvert break…
These two examples are from the same radio station – with one of the voice breaks causing listening to drop below average and the other one boosting it to go above average. The surprise: it’s the loooong break that builds listening. Because it was relevant.
Usage Situation Matters
The second key factor we found when trying to determine what makes a good voice break is timing. Not in the jokes but in the time of day.
We marked all voice breaks in our study with durations over four minutes and looked for both positive, neutral and negative reactions correlated with broadcast time. And we found that the acceptance of longer voice breaks is very different from daypart to daypart. Not exactly a counterintuitive discovery, but we were surprised at how big the difference was.
During the breakfast show it seems that stricter discipline – but still with relevance as the most important factor – is needed. Or in other words: if you are going to embark on a 5-minute break in the morning, you had better make sure the break is both relevant and extrovert; otherwise you are in trouble and listeners will leave in large numbers.
Our research takes into account the average movements of listeners, so these results are not simply the result of a higher fluctuation in the listener group. The willingness to sit through long breaks is simply smaller in the morning.
During workdays the tolerance for longer voice breaks is higher – not surprisingly. But it did take us a bit by surprise that the tolerance stays high during drive, only dropping slightly from mid day.
Trying to make sense of these discoveries we surmise the average listener could have more of a wish to be challenged once the work day is over. That they, to a higher degree, are looking for more inspiration and depth than in the morning where life is rushed and stressful.
Naturally the average numbers we found – since they are from a range of very different stations – are not directly applicable on just any station. But they are remarkable enough to make it clear that duration is far from the only factor; we would even say not the most important factor when planning content.
Our findings show that with the right planning of content types, bit styles and dayparted duration awareness, an average radio station can boost their TSL pr. listening session up to 10% after making the right changes. But be aware that the job isn’t done with a one-off revamp. Listener preference is an organic value and will drift from place to place over time.
CEO & CO-FOUNDER OF RADIOANALYZER
Alumni of DJH (Danish School of Journalism) and eternally devoted to improve mass communication. Has excelled as Journalist, Columnist, Commentator, DJ, News Director, Sports Editor, Sub Chief Editor, Innovation Director and Radio Manager. Started in radio at age 14 and isn’t planning to quit anytime soon.