Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

What I mean by that “choppy” observation is that radio has lost its flow. Today’s radio for the most part is herky-jerky. On-air production is constantly starting and stopping with every programming element and to a life-long radio guy, poor on-air production grates on my ears.

Where’s the Flow?

What I loved about listening to radio growing up was each station’s on-air production. The flow of programming elements was exciting. A radio station’s jingles flowing into the next record with the air personality working their magic in the mix.

But today, we hear a commercial end – a jingle plays and ends – a record begins – and then maybe an announcer (I dare not call them a “personality”) read a liner card. It’s all so disjointed and it’s anything but smooth.

Moreover, every programming element is generic. The station has no local feel about it.

Great On-Air Radio Production is Hard to Find

One of the stations I enjoy listening to for great on-air production is WETA-FM out of Washington, DC. WETA-FM is a classical music station, but its flow is seamless. Its personalities are personable and, for me, they are the #1 reason I so enjoy the station, along with the fact that WETA-FM brings this same detailed attention to every programming element.

Another Washington, DC radio station that delivers flow, personality and is a pleasure to listening to is News Radio WTOP. This radio station is usually the nation’s top billing radio station and has won every radio award; more than once.

You can’t transplant either of the stations, as they are fully programmed to serve their marketplace and no place else.

Syndication & Voice Tracking

The reason most radio stations don’t have great on-air production and flow can be attributed primarily to syndication and voice tracking.

With syndication, stations on the network need to all wait for network cue tones to fire their programming elements. Also, if their local production isn’t perfectly timed out, there will be gaps between the programming elements or a programming element will be cut-off.

The other problem with syndication is that it’s not unusual to hear a radio commercial repeated more than once in the same break. I’ve heard the same commercial play three times in a single break, sometimes this occurs with the same spot playing back-to-back.

With voice tracking, an announcer is tracking for multiple stations and never is really able to focus on a single station or radio market. It sounds like they’re talking at me and not to me. Often, they seek out generic content that can be tracked in multiple markets. I don’t need Facebook content read to me, I’m on Facebook.

The Listener Experience

Great radio is all about creating a fabulous listener experience, unfortunately that is rare on today’s radio dial.

Sadly, I understand how under-staffing means that today’s radio talent is wearing multiple hats (often more than four, according to the latest research from Fred Jacobs) and has little opportunity to give any one of their responsibilities more than a moment’s focus.

I often think what your favorite NFL team would look like if the quarterback also was the team’s coach, punter and played defense.

Or how would football fans feels if their team was under the same ownership as three other NFL teams and their quarterback also played for one or more of those other teams.? My thinking is that this would spell the beginning of the end of raving football fans.

Well, as I travel around America, I hear the same announcers on multiple radio stations.

How can any radio station expect to have listener loyalty when their on-air announcers don’t even have station loyalty? Listeners know great radio when they hear it. They will continue to listen to your station only until something better comes along, and we all know it’s easier to retain a listener than to acquire a new one.

Until the listener experience is Job One, today’s radio will be contributing to its own undoing.

(This article was originally published on October 3, 2021)


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6 responses to “Does Radio Sound Choppy to You?

  1. I haven’t seen automation for radio (or television) that isn’t cuts-only. Even Golden Age fade-&-switch audio consoles – derived from Western Electric telephone switching equipment of the 1920s – permitted fades, cross-fades, (dissolves), and voice-overs that smoothed on-air presentation. We’d segue overlapping the last cut’s reverberation and back-time an instrumental to end each half hour, fading it in under the on-air personality. Today, announcers limited to 30s every 20min are not distinguishable as live amid the clutter.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Walter Luffman

    Dick, your article did a great job of pointing out a major weakness of voice-tracking: stop-and-start jerkiness. Used to be, when live personalities (or uber-talented engineers/board ops) ran the controls, they prided themselves on keeping the flow seamless. One song ran into the next “on the beat”, there was zero dead air, segues between elements were smooth, the song-to-song music tempo stepped up and down smoothly, etc. Careful back-timing and use of fades meant that the last song went smoothly into the network newscast without a break. Oh, and stopsets usually consisted of well-written and well-produced commercials, many of them done in-house, with competitors never running back-to-back.

    Today, all that smoothness is lost, except when it happens serendipitously. Does it benefit either company when GEICO and Progressive Insurance commercials run back-to-back? How about Chevy and Honda dealers’ spots — or worse, two spots for competing same-brand dealerships? Are listeners more or less likely to stay tuned if a beautiful ballad like “Open Arms” follows a fast, high-energy rocker? Isn’t it boring and cheap-sounding to hear the same (usually, but not always) announcer voice two or three consecutive commercials? Well-produced local content can easily avoid all these pitfalls; automation and voice-tracking seldom does, or can.

    And how does voice-tracking or syndication relate to the local community?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Walter, the control of a program director (the protector of the listener’s ears) is over. No one is minding the store anymore to insure the listener is completely informed and entertained. It’s really very sad how little investment in the on-air production is in the 21st Century.


  3. Dave Mason

    Dick, your NFL analogy is pretty good. Problem is your local NFL team is a “small business” usually owned by a family making sure that they do all they can to bring fans into the stands. Yeah, millions and millions of dollars change hands every season-and the pay scale is higher than that of radio. There are just a few NFL teams compared to the thousands of radio stations. Imagine if the kicker on your team was replaced by a machine. NFL teams aren’t beholding to investors looking for 80% of the revenue to go to the bottom line.

    Then there’s the whole automation issue. I have used automation that’s as smooth as it can be -because attention was paid to by a human to make it work correctly. Replacing CD, cart, vinyl, reel-to-reel sources with a computer system isn’t the issue. In many (more so than not) situations the person assigned to setting up things doesn’t even listen to see if it’s all right. I’ve heard multiple elements running on stations in Los Angeles-because there’s no one there to stop it.

    HD radio has caused a new issue as well. If the analog signal isn’t synced to the HD signal you’ll get a delay between the two -from microseconds to – seconds! I can’t tell you how many stations I’ve heard it on in the past year. As the HD signal reverts to the (more powerful) analog signal -you can tell if they’re set up correctly.

    Wanna have more fun? Check out a certain company’s websites and the “now playing” or “playlist” pages. Well, now the “playlist” link doesn’t show a playlist. In the past it’s been ripe with typos and misplaced punctuation. Someone must’ve said “shut it off”. Wanna know what those stations played? You’re out of luck.

    Choppy, sloppy…yeah that will ruin any momentum a radio station can ever have .Where does the fault lie? Let’s go back to 1996 for starters. Keep fighting the fight, Dick.

    Liked by 1 person

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