Dead Air: Friend Or Foe


(By Randy Lane) When many of us started in radio, dead air was a cardinal sin. I still have the dreaded dream of being on air, the music runs out, I can’t speak, I can’t find a song or commercial, and for the life of me I can’t find anything to fill the dead air.

As it turns out, dead air is actually good! Silence/pausing is a powerful communication technique that has been used by great orators from Winston Churchill to Ronald Reagan to Barrack Obama. Pausing was also a trademark of radio great Paul Harvey.

Making an emotional connection with an audience is not only conveyed by your words, but also by your pauses.

Here are five ways to use the power of the pause for clearer communication:

Pause when ending a story and transitioning to a new one in news features and when switching topics. A one-second pause makes the story or discussion stand out and signals a change to the audience.

Dramatic Pause
Rev up the suspense with a pause just before and after making a major point. A dramatic pause for two or three seconds intensifies the tension of your narrative.

Punchline Pause
Pause just before delivering a punchline to ramp up anticipation and set up the audience for the payoff. Respect the laugh zone by continuing to pause until the laughter starts to trail off.

Storytelling Pause
Draw the audience into your story with pauses as the action shifts.”Then, suddenly out of nowhere,” pause… creates a heightened feeling of anticipation in listeners.

Verbal Pauses
Filler words like “um,” “uh,” “well,” “so,” “you know,” and “like” are filler words that dilute your points. Harvard communication expert Steven D. Cohen recommends that you eliminate weak language like this by pausing, thinking, and then continuing.

Pauses are particularly effective during vulnerable conversations. Let uncomfortable silence play out. Dramatic pauses touch listeners emotionally and they remember them.

When we get comfortable with silence, just maybe we’ll stop having those dead-air dreams!

Randy Lane launched his media talent coaching and personal brand development company in 1996. He can be contacted by phone at 805-497-7177 or email at [email protected]


  1. Too true, Randy.
    It was driven into our little brains that “dead air” would result in two things: 1. Instant loss of attention on the part of a listener and, 2. Our own imminent demise.
    I had to train a number of PD’s to stop over-reacting to the premise, and the technique of effectively using the pause. The poor devils had already been indoctrinated and de-programming them was a tough haul. One or two did buy in.
    The others put me on their “needs watching” list. 🙂
    Apparently, from my radio roaming, the concept is still alive and continuously toxic. Even taking a breath has become a dangerous option, especially in spots.


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