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Tracy Johnson
6 Sure Fire Ways To Get Rid of On-Air Crutches
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Okay, so this is, like, an article about, ah, all those, um, bad, uh, habits or on-air crutches that Dj’s pick up, you know. Know what I mean? Fix these things and, like, you can be super-better at your, um, job and stuff. You know? Whatever.

All air personalities develop crutches. It may be repeating certain phrases (‘How you doin’ on a Thursday?”), running thoughts and sentences together or even just saying, “uh or um” all the time. Inserting “filler” words into conversation slows the pace and gets in the way of communication.

Those fillers happen when searching for the right word or waiting for the mouth to catch up with our thoughts. Soon they become ingrained and we don’t even hear ourselves using them. It becomes a habit.

And it’s a barrier for the listener. In fact, at times it can get so annoying she may hear nothing else.

On-air Crutches: Everyone Has Them

I can virtually guarantee that if you’re on the air, you have a crutch or two. You may know about it, or maybe not. Most of the time someone needs to point it out to you.

It’s a huge problem for most broadcasters. Kevin Olmstead, who became famous for winning over $2 million winner on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, points out that breaking up a statement with fillers causes a loss in confidence from your audience.

For example, read the following lines and compare how they sound:

We’re going to hunt down terrorists and bring them to justice, dead or alive!


We’re going to, ah, hunt down terrorists, and, um, bring them to justice, uh, dead or alive.

Now imagine the President saying it at a nationwide address designed to inspire confidence in the administration. The first line sounds bold, powerful and focused. The second demonstrates less confidence, doesn’t it? It sounds tentative and lacks conviction.

Throw Away Those Crutches

It’s possible to overcome bad habits. First, you have to know they exist. Kim Welter, a member of Toastmasters and a former English teacher says,

 We seldom listen to ourselves, so we don’t know what the pattern might be,

That’s especially true for air personalities. Most dread the air check meeting. And many rarely, if ever, listen to their own show. This is where a program director or talent coach can help. If that’s not a possibility, start a new habit to air check yourself and pay specific attention to those little things that stand out as crutches.

Once they’re identified, go to work to overcome the bad habit.

Here’s how:

Change Your Posture

Changing the position in front of the microphone can make a big difference. If you normally sit down to perform, stand up. If you typically lean back, lean forward. Getting out of the comfort zone can sharpen performance because it forces the brain to be more alert.

When we get into habits and patterns, it’s easy to perform a decent break. That’s going on auto-pilot. Changing the posture can get you going down a different path.

Slow Down & Relax

Here’s an easy thing to improve: Relax. And slow down. This will also improve your vocal qualities. The fastest talker is not a powerful force. Filling each micro-second doesn’t win the biggest prize.

Practice relaxed and powerful conversation, both on and off the air. Replace crutches with silence. It will help you gather your thoughts and your voice will catch up with your brain (or vice-versa).

Speak as slowly as needed in order to maintain a thought without the crutch.

As you improve, pick up the tempo. But remember that momentum is more about keeping the break moving forward. It’s not about talking faster.

Pause Between Thoughts

Most crutches are defense mechanisms air personalities develop to fill time. One of the first lessons in radio was likely that dead air is a sin and you wouldn’t get to the promised land of ratings paradise unless you fill every second with sound.

It’s not true.

You actually don’t have to keep making noise in order to keep listener attention.

“Uh and um” occur when personalities feel (usually subconsciously) that they have to keep talking.  But pausing between sentences can actually add more drama and impact to presentation.

Pausing is an effective way to break the habit of using the same words over and over. Focus on one word that is a crutch, and every time you start to say it, just pause briefly. Collect your thoughts and move on without the word. This feels awkward at first, but it will break the habit.

It’s natural to try and fill all dead space. But it’s not awkward to the listener. It’s perfectly normal.

Prepare Better

Performing spontaneously is important, but too many personalities take that to an extreme. Plan the structure of each break and know what will be said before trying to say it. Visualize how the segment will flow.

If that doesn’t help break the habit, prep even further. Create bullet points to prompt you through the break. And if that doesn’t work, script the breaks until the habit is broken. There’s nothing wrong with writing out everything you say on the air. Some personalities actually sound more causal and spontaneous when reading from a script.

If that doesn’t work, voice-track until the crutch is gone. And force yourself to re-perform the break until you nail it without the crutch.

Work on Body Language

Sometimes habits recur when personalities perform with their head down, or their eyes closed or staring straight ahead at the microphone. Stop this practice. If you’re on a multi-personality show, make eye contact with co-hosts. If you don’t have a co-host, fake one.

Tune a television to a channel with talking heads, and make eye contact with them. Or buy a mannequin to sit across the console. Or mount a poster on the wall. Speaking directly and making eye contact helps eliminate distractions.


Breaks get off track when personalities try to do too many things at once. Chances are, this is the biggest problem. Even if the break is technically prepped, most air personalities don’t pay attention until a few seconds before the mic goes on.

Stop trying to multitask and focus on the next break. It will make a huge difference.

Be in the moment. If you’re thinking about the next segment, the next song, the next element…or worse, texting a friend…the habits will never get better. And they may become worse.


It takes discipline and attention to detail to get rid of bad habits, but you can do it! The result: You’ll come off as more confident, more prepared and more credible. You’ll also be more interesting.

Try it and let me know how it works for you. tracy@tjohnsonmediagroup.com

Thanks to The Blade for examples and help in creating this article. Click here.

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