Ask the Experts – the 12 second talk break

Staff Writer

Radio Today's 'Ask the Experts' is where we pose your questions to a revolving group of industry experts. As always, if there's a question you want to ask (and you can remain anonymous if you like), shoot it through to us here.

The experts this time are a selection of music announcers from Sydney & Melbourne.

In Dan Bradley’s recent article, 1+1+1= ? (read here), he talked about the need for music announcers to understand their role. He talked about the ability to do tight breaks as being one important component of the announcers 'tool kit'. He said;

'Their role is to keep the music flowing, and ensure that the content in their live breaks connects with what the listeners are doing, watching, talking about, thinking. To make the music, the format, and the station 'the star'.

To do so with an understanding that listeners are not hanging off their every word.

It means ‘one thought per break’. It means being able to inject personality and content in a focused way into a 12 second break with a caller over an intro. There is clearly a time and place for longer breaks, not all breaks can be this tight, however a highly crafted speed break is a fundamental tool of successful music announcers.'

It led to a lot of debate. One comment wanted us to ask the experts how to do it.

So, how do you perform an entertaining, compelling break over a 12 second intro ?

Here's what the experts had to say….

Tim Lee : Fox FM Melbourne (Southern Cross Austereo)


LONGER ANSWER: With TSL dropping across all networks and people moving away from traditional media, now more so than ever – time is currency. Some believe music announcers should spend as little as possible, while others don’t appreciate its value and spend as much as they like. Another form of currency is “money”, and we all know the consequences of letting cash control content. Like revenue, the time announcers devote to talk breaks top of mind, but is not worth creating sub-par radio over.

My job as a day jock is to keep the music flowing, sell my station’s bookends, make the listener a star, find the balance between global and local, and most importantly – keep as many listeners around for another 15 minutes. Sometimes you can achieve that with a simple sentence, other times stopping down may be required as to not alienate the floating cume. My goal isn’t to keep talk breaks under a certain time, it’s to sell the station in an entertaining way with broad appeal as concisely as possible – If that is best achieved in 12 seconds, that’s when you’ll hear me do one!

So how can it be done?

If ‘one thought per break’ is a semi-regular concept for you (it shouldn’t), it’s your whole universe now! You’re it’s ‘Number 1 Fan’. Prepare to denounce any Judeo-Christian gods because One Thought Per Break is your entire belief system – And peace be upon It. Got it? Good.

Forward sells of songs are often used to punctuate breaks, as they’re not officially classified as a ‘thought’ because… Actually, I don’t know how PD’s swung that one! In a 12 second break, that becomes your one thought. If you use a grab from Big Brother, don’t then use it to tie into your brekky show. Say you’re sitting on a great 50 second pre recorded call, the kind that ticks all the boxes…

  • Calls you by name
  • Mentions that the whole office “never flicks stations”
  • Comes prepared with their own content, eg “Everyone wants you to play ‘Mysterious Girl’, but I told them I’d be wearing my undies on the outside for the rest of the day before you played Peter Andre…” at which point you tell her the bad news. Everyone in the office is howling with laughter, she’s begging you not to…

It’s time to become impartial, to ruthlessly edit, and then edit again in order to find the absolute highlight. You can setup and create context when you sell into it live. Using the above as an example, this is how I’d fashion it into a 12 second bit.

“(ANNOUNCER) Hey it’s Tim on Imagine FM, trying to settle an argument Sue’s been having with the whole office – You’re so confident that we wouldn’t play “Mysterious Girl”, you’d… (CALLER) Wear my undies on the outside for the rest of the day and put it on your Facebook! (ANNOUNCER) Hope you’re wearing the good ones Sue, because here’s Peter Andre on Imagine! (CALLER) No please! *office laughing*”

Boom: 12 second(ish) break right there. Personality, passionate listener, social media – it’s got it all!

It also took me a solid 25 minutes of planning, rewriting and rehearsing it out loud to get it ready for how I’d go to air with it.

12 second raves can be done. They can be compelling, entertaining, have a strong music focus and have your personality all over it. They also shouldn’t be sought out like some Announcer Nirvana. They should be a part of a polished CHR announcer’s arsenal, alongside other disciplines including; Compelling hooking, bringing liners to life (5 times a day), listening to your breakfast show daily, connecting to with your demo, etc, etc.

SIMPLE ANSWER (AFTER SPENDING A LITTLE MORE TIME THINKING ABOUT IT): You can with enough practice and discipline, and if my bosses are reading this – I will endeavour to do more of them.

Here's some of Tim's work… Breaks.mp3


Harlee McLeod : Nova 969 Sydney (dmg)

Yes it’s challenging, every second counts. You need to be sharp and focused.

It certainly doesn’t mean talking at lightning speed to get everything you want to say out, you’ll sound like a robot and the listeners won’t be able to decipher it anyway. Remember to breathe and pause like you normally would in a conversation.

In 12 seconds I limit myself to the station ID (forget your name in the break) then one of these:

– Fabulous caller. Get the gold out of them and remove the rest. ‘Hi’, “how are you’ etc need to be scrapped. You don’t have the time for nothingness conversation.
– Artist grab. Choose a piece that tells you something you didn’t know about them, some goss or news about a tour
– Compelling hook to a track coming up or a comp
– Break on something you’ve read, watched or something that’s happened to you

To nail it your best bet is to practice it over the song intro….over and over and over. Then you know exactly what you’re in for when the song starts playing and the 12 second countdown begins!


Trevor Sinclair : 2CH Sydney (Macquarie Radio Network)

The 1+1+1 = 1/3 is something that I recall and have used since the eighties, long before Dean or Dan. Being succinct, relatable and entertaining to listeners as a person not a machine is the key. The majority of people haven’t got time to take too much in at once.

Whether it be 8, 12, 20 seconds or 45, make them count. Deliver with passion, they’ll know if you’re faking it. Feel what the listener is feeling. Hit the primal hot buttons.

This month I’ve been filling in on the Breakfast Show on 2CH – a Greatest Memories music driven Breakfast format with at least one, sometimes two Speed Breaks per quarter hour. Last month I was working a Rock Format at Star 104.5. Whether it’s a market like Sydney or the Central Coast, I believe it’s essential to feel what the listener is feeling every time I open the mic… from the blinding sun glare on the M5 – the crunch of the ice on the lawn in Sydney’s west in winter – taking your morning walk with your scarf wrapped extra tightly around your neck – the smell of smoke in the air from back burns… whatever it is, feel it and your listener will identify with you.

Be creative with your hook to the next contest, not just “coming up the blah, blah, blah”.  Listeners often call for contests outside of contesting time, use them to your advantage. Even as recently as this week we’ve been running a tactic for a client presenting a Camping, Caravanning and Holiday Expo – the number of who people who have called to win the $700 Eco Cooker outside of contesting times is astounding, and I’ve used them to create colour pieces of less than 20 seconds talking about exciting destinations they’ve visited. It’s a great way to tease the contest, adds value for the client, and gets the audience thinking as well.

Music teases can be done in a similar fashion, there’s always a way to make it more compelling to keep listening. 

I’d like to add two more words to Dan’s quote “NOT EVERY listener is hanging off their every word”, as some indeed are, particularly with an older demographic, you’d be surprised how many listeners quote things back to me. For those who aren’t, make your words count.


Ellie Mobbs : 2Day FM Sydney (Southern Cross Austereo)

If being a workday announcer was so easy, then why isn’t everyone doing it? There is an art to be a killer music jock and as CB mentioned in the comments 12 second breaks are a thing of the past.

At 2Day we are really letting ourselves have some fun on the station, sticking  to the CHR rule “thou shall only talk about one thought per break”. Not only integrating in our big shows like Kyle & Jackie O and Fifi & Jules but bringing in elements of social media interaction.

Our breaks could be 10 seconds to 1 minute, as long as the content is strong.  In those short breaks – how do I sell a song in 12 seconds? I’m prepared. I’ll write down what I want to say, be brutal with word economy and ensure I’m only talking about one thought. I will edit down my call to get the gold from my listener. How do I not sound like a robot? Inject my personality I just be myself & show my passion for the Today brand and the music we play.

I’ve got no shame in telling half a million people I cried listening to Birdy’s “Skinny Love” or danced around my house in my undies getting ready for work this morning listening to the new Flo Rida track. It’s these small 1% that all add together to make the best 12 seconds of CHR radio.

Now I put out a challenge to content directors. Jump into a studio and have a crack at doing a music shift. Let’s hear your best 12 seconds!!


Simon Diaz : Mix 101.1 Melbourne (ARN)

Achieving a 12 second speed break is something I never thought I would be doing when I first started out in Commercial Radio and I'll be honest I don't always nail it and 15 sec is more the norm for me, but what is achievable is cutting out the crap and getting to the point. Diaz 1.mp3

One thought per break should always be top of mind when crafting your speed break and know your audience. As music jocks we want to believe that everyone is hanging onto our every word but that isn't always the case. How many times have you taken a call asking when you'll be playing the competition just after you told them on-air!!

A couple of things I do to make a speed break more interesting and entertaining is firstly the use of audio, whether it be a grab from an interview that was done in breakfast or on YouTube. You can use short audio grabs in so many different ways to tease the music you have coming up. Secondly and I think the best is callers, the right caller who fits the format can make the break sing. I'm constantly recording every caller throughout the shift, asking them questions, editing them down and storing them for future play. Diaz 2.mp3

My final words on crafting speed breaks are preparation and air checks. Every successful show does it and that includes us humble music jocks. I truly believe what we do is important and we should constantly be crafting our art and I know some of you may only have access to your PD/CD on an ad hoc basis so if you ever need any advice just email me here.


Kelli Paun : Nova 100 Melbourne (dmg)

Whether it’s a 7 second, 12 second or 30 second break I don’t stress about a word count. It’s taken a lot of practice for it to become second nature so I really don’t have to think about it.

There are always basics that are required in certain breaks and it is important to prep for any shift, so you know what you are going to say and when you are going to say. I prep before my shift, look at the music log, and get an idea of how I feel about particular songs, what basics I need to include and when I am going to say them.

I like to keep breaks real and relatable and make them conversational, whether they are shorter or longer, as you would when you are talking to a friend.

When I hear a song I have an opinion and am honest about how I feel as chances are the listener feels the same way. I also try to give them some information about the artist or the song that they don’t know so they look at it differently.


Dan Cassin : 2Day FM Sydney (Southern Cross Austereo)

Use lots of different elements around you, like listeners, artists, twitter, facebook etc. Do it in your own words and style. Injecting your personality and to be yourself is so important. Otherwise you will end up like a robot!


Dave Higgins : Triple M Melbourne (Southern Cross Austereo)

Brevity is the key. The way people construct breaks is many and varied, so it just comes down to whatever works best for you. Some people write their breaks out, some people have bullet points, some people have one key word to work from. Whatever your method, practice makes perfect. Know what you want to say, and run through it.

Don’t be too precious with your content.

What I mean by that is, ask yourself, what is the most pertinent point you need to get across?

How can I convey that concisely  without it sounding like bullet points?

If you are using a caller, what is the gold? How do I get to that as quickly as possible?

Cut out the fluff “hi how are you, what are you doing, where are you?” Use only the bit you need from the caller.

12 seconds doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but remember, you don’t always have to start, and finish your breaks with a station ID. One will suffice in that amount of time, so you’re saving time already.

Only you can inject your own personality, no one can tell you what to say in that regard, it’s just who you are, and that will (should) come out in your breaks naturally.

“I’ve just been surfing Triple and Miranda Kerr has no clothes on, which is awesome, but check out what’s happening over her left shoulder in pic 3, I Gotta know how that can happen, can you explain it?”

You’d look wouldn’t you.

Prepare, practice, edit, edit again.

Any thoughts? Leave your comments below.

And as usual, if you have a question you want to ask our revolving group of experts (they come from all area's of radio), let us know here and we'll get it sorted for you.


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