5 Keys to Hijack Audience Attention

In the past, scarcity drove radio usage. There were few choices for listeners to choose from. That was great for radio broadcasters because it was easy to attract audiences. With fewer entertainment sources competing for attention, the choices were Radio Station A or Radio Station B. But times have changed. Attention is the new scarcity. If we want to maintain and grow audiences, we must learn to hijack audience attention.

How To Hijack Audience Attention

Think about how you use media in your personal life. You’re multitasking, switching from one streaming channel to another. You watch the DVR while checking a social media feed and conversing with friends via text. Listening in the car is not quite as busy, but it’s getting closer.

Divided attention makes earned attention more valuable. It’s often been said that radio’s greatest advantage is that it is convenient and free, but listeners pay with their attention.  To prosper, radio must hijack audience attention from other sources.

But there’s a problem because radio is a background medium. The audience is doing something else while listening. Earning attention can’t happen by eliminating things that cause tune-out but by attracting tune-in. More music guarantees and tweaking the playlist to ensure the songs are “safe” is fine, but does that make the station indispensable?

There are many ways to gain more attention, but here’s a good start. Each of the following qualities will put you on a path toward actually being heard.

It happens with personalities that create close connections with fans. Here are ways to do it.

5 Keys To Hijack Audience Attention


Perspective: Content alone doesn’t cut through, no matter how well it’s prepared and planned. Everyone has access to the most popular topics. It’s not so much what you talk about as how you talk about it. In a focus group, the panel listened to an entertainment report that reported facts about the top stories that day. One respondent said:

I already know that Beyonce fell down the stairs. THat’s old news. Why don’t they do something interesting?

If listeners care about a story, they already know. Adding perspective makes the story, but that takes a more advanced approach to show prep.

Storytelling: Most of the content on radio stations is something listeners don’t care about. They’re not interested in the information, but they respond to stories.

Casey Kasem was a master storyteller, weaving trivia about hit songs into stories that caused the audience actually to be invested in it. His American Top 40 radio show was a countdown of the week’s most famous songs, sprinkled with a few facts about the artists and songs. Pretty simple. However, Casey turned those facts into art by using them as the basis for telling stories. In doing so, he made listeners care.

Teases: Teasing is a critical skill for building anticipation for upcoming content, but teases are also a way to hijack audience attention by making the content more engaging. A well-crafted tease causes listeners to look forward to an upcoming segment. A good tease is like a sample at Costco. It provides just enough value to cause the consumer to take action. In this case, they crave the payoff.

Repetition=Good, Redundant=Bad: Try to perform with personality every time the microphone is on even when it is repetitive. You read liner cards, execute contests, deliver service information, and the station position over and over. That repetition is good, but when repetition becomes mindless, it numbs the audience. They don’t even hear it. And when there’s no value for listeners, there’s no reason to pay attention.

Listeners don’t get tired of repetition, but quickly are fatigued with redundancy. Every break matters when competing for attention, so be brilliant at the basics by putting energy into crafting entertaining segments in every single break.


Programmers, managers, and personalities worry about how radio competition will affect shares. That’s the wrong enemy. Instead, understand and appreciate how listeners use entertainment sources and learn to hijack audience attention on a background medium (radio). Every broadcaster faces this challenge.

Focus on finding new ways to make your brand worthy of attention by crafting unique entertainment in every segment The result will be more tune-in occasions and increased TSL.

Pic designed by kroshka_nastya for www.freepik.com.

Tracy Johnson is a talent coach and programming consultant. He’s the President/CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group. His book Morning Radio has been described as The Bible of Personality Radio and has been used by personalities worldwide.

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