Listeners constantly form opinions and make decisions on whether or not it’s worth their time to stay tuned to a radio show. They tune in and tune out, often switching stations after stopping for just a few seconds. This creates a unique challenge for radio personalities. Every break is the first break of the day for a percentage of listeners. That means all breaks are important. But are all breaks equal?

Spoiler alert: They’re not.

All Breaks Are Important

An Alan Burns & Associates study clearly shows that listeners tune in for the first time throughout the day.

Analyze the data here and it’s easy to see that even those early morning segments matter-a lot.

Notice how evenly distributed the first tune-in time is?

Even the very early hours (before 6 am) attract a significant percentage of listening. And as outlined below, those listeners are exceptionally valuable.

Make The Horses Jump!

This reminds me of a Walt Disney story. Many years ago, a young Walt Disney took his daughter to a carnival. They were having a wonderful time when they came to the carousel. Most of these rides feature some horses in mid-jump, leaping up and down. Others that are stationary, bolted to the revolving floor.

The reason is, of course, financial. Jumping horses require more hydraulics and maintenance.

But it changes the customer experience. As Walt and his daughter got on the ride, she looked up and said, “Daddy, Why don’t all the horses jump?”.

See also  How Long Talk Breaks Should Be

From that day on, Disney vowed:

All the horses jump and there will be no chipped paint.

Disney applied this philosophy to every detail when building his empire. Check it out. At every Disney park, all the horses jump. They pay attention to detail because details make up the customer experience.

What does this have to do with the radio? Plenty.

Think of each horse as a segment on a radio show. Each talk break is an opportunity to entertain, surprise, and delight 100% of the audience tuned in. Or you can disappoint them.

Yes, even that first break of the day at 5 am. Or the last one before getting off the air.

Every time the mic is on, the horses should jump.

But Not All Breaks Are Equal

While all breaks are important, some are more valuable than others. And it makes sense to emphasize high leverage breaks.

Every performer, programmer, and producer should learn the science of radio ratings. Some quarter-hours have a larger available audience. It makes sense to prioritize those segments.

However, because there is a greater rating reward at those times, other stations may have a stronghold. This requires an in-depth analysis.

See also  Program Jingles: Don't Just Play Them

Here’s how to determine which quarter-hours will have the most impact:

  • Identify times that attract the most total listening in the market. This can be found in every rating report. Don’t assume you know these things from experience or common sense. The facts may verify assumptions, but also may be a surprise.
  • These quarter hours should be a high priority because there’s more to gain. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the most important time slot.
  • Next, compare the most popular quarter hours with your show’s best-performing (by share and AQH) times. Note the programming that attracts listening to those quarter hours.
  • Finally, evaluate each competitor. What are they doing at their most popular hours and your strongest times? Then track what is happening on each station at the market’s most valuable quarter-hours?

Note: Don’t just look at the most recent data. It’s more reliable to track this information across multiple periods.

Adjust Programming

Armed with this data, a programmer can now program the strongest content for the greatest advantage.

But this is where it gets tricky.

It’s tempting to place the most valuable content in the highest leverage times. It makes sense at first.

But it could be that the greatest leverage is to attack when the competition is weakest. There may be fewer quarter hours to gain, but it may be an easier win.

See also  This Commercial Free Strategy Works!

Growth could come faster by attracting a larger percentage of smaller ratings “pie”.

Also, consider how to leverage the strongest quarter-hours to support a time period that is weaker.

For example, maybe your show’s best quarter-hour is 6:45-7 am, but the largest audience tunes in from 7-7:15.

This would be a perfect time to program a two-part serial content feature like Second Date Update, The One That Got Away, or Forgive and Forget. Segment 1 hooks listeners in the station’s strongest quarter-hour. The Pay Off is scheduled in the next quarter-hour.


Programming a radio show is complicated.

This process may lead to a clear path to success. It also may be confusing without.

If in doubt, don’t just flip a coin and hope.

If uncertain, the best solution is to schedule the strongest content in quarter hours with the most available audience. Then, promote the segment aggressively.

Either way, it’s helpful to know which times can produce the best results.


Resources to build effective clocks

Programming the Last Break On The Show

Should Your Morning Show Start Earlier?

The Ratings Game eBook

Double Your Ratings Seminar on Demand

Build A Commercial-Free Strategy To Be Proud Of

It’s Time To Rethink Your Clocks