Back Timing

Article 5 min
Watch A1C Hannah Malone of the American Forces Network (AFN) Radio Refreshers to learn the best practices for performing back timing, including show timing factors, the break timer, back timing methods and switching to news.

Show Time Factors

Radio shows run off a schedule. Everything we do on air is timed out to our Eagle format. However, you can't always predict what will happen during the show. Talk breaks, especially with in-studio guests and phone calls, are very difficult to keep on a schedule. Sometimes a break goes longer than expected, or a guest might not have as much to say as they thought they did. These factors alter the timing of your show.

We play a four-minute news element at the start (or top) of every hour. This is done by switching from our local Flex board to our Eagle satellite feed. This means towards the end of your hour, you have to prepare your final songs and talk breaks, so the last song in your hour ends when the news element at the top of the hour begins. This is why we back time.

PRO TIP: Practice back timing calculation off air!

Back timing involves doing a little math to figure out the length of your final song to get you to the top-of-the-hour news element. When you're around the 45-minute mark in your hour, start paying attention to how long your songs are and when you need to talk.

Back Timing Methods

There are two general approaches to back timing:

  1. Back timing with a full talk break
  2. Back timing with a ramp transition

During the end of your show, if you need to build a talk break in before your final song, you can do so.

Take time to build pre-production elements for your show, such as beds of various lengths.

If you have a song loaded with a bed that's 40 seconds long, then a song with a 10-second ramp loaded after, you've built yourself 50 seconds of talk time. This version of back timing requires that you account for the song currently playing, lay a bed of a certain length, then back time off the end time of both elements. 

Back timing over a ramp is a bit simpler. This method back times off your second-to-last song in the hour, then loads a second song with a ramp after it. Try to find a song with a significant ramp length long enough to tease news, sports and upcoming content.

Break Timer

When back timing, the break timer is one of your best tools.

  • If your Flex deck ampersands are off, the break timer will show how long the current element will play until dead air.
  • If your ampersands are on, the break timer will show how long until the entire flex deck produces dead air.

The break timer is a key part of back timing, so familiarize yourself with this tool. Let's say we're 53 minutes into our hour, and our current song playing has about three minutes left to play. That means our song will end around the 56-minute mark. So we have about four minutes to fill until the top of the hour. If we need talk time, we can lay down a short bed, then a song with a ramp, or we can lay down a longer song with a ramp to get us to the top of the hour. 

Back Timing with the Bed Method

First Step

Use the break countdown timer to establish when all your current elements will end. Look at your clock and find a nice round time to use as a reference point. Immediately look at and write down the time on your break counter. Add these times together.


53:30 + 03:18 = 56:48

If the time you use is 53 minutes and 30 seconds, and your song plus your final bed added together ends in 3 minutes and 18 seconds, you know all your elements end at the 56 minutes and 48-second mark.

Second Step

Now, take the total time in the hour and subtract your elements and time from it.

PRO TIP: One trick is to use 59 minutes and 60 seconds instead of 60 minutes and zero seconds to represent the total time in the hour.


59:60 - 56:48 = 03:12

In this case, we would subtract 56 minutes and 48 seconds from 59 minutes and 60 seconds. This gives us 3 minutes and 12 seconds of time to fill. 

We'll choose a song with a 13-second ramp. This means we can talk over the fade of the current song playing, over the bed, then walk the ramp with our forward tease and finish the hour. 

Switching to News

Whatever final song you choose, note if it is a fade or cold ending. Each song is unique, and its ending will work differently as you sync fading your final song's ending and firing the satellite feed to play the four-minute news element. 

  1. Use your preview speaker to listen to the satellite feed during your final song.
  2. Place your hands on the buttons to prepare.
  3. While listening to the preview, fade your song and fire the Eagle satellite feed after the AFN Eagle liner that cues you to switch from the local feed to the satellite feed. 

Congrats, you successfully back timed! Practice makes perfect, and in no time at all, it'll be second nature. Have a great show!

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