The Inverted Funnel: Anatomy of a Radio Break [audio] [video]

The Inverted Funnel: Anatomy of a Radio Break [audio] [video]

by Tracy Johnson

What’s your process for getting ideas on the air? And what methods to you have in place for collecting show content and converting it into stories listeners can relate to? Here’s a structure that may work for you. The inverted funnel may be just the technique that works for you and your team.

As you probably know, the most valuable source of content on the air comes from your personal life experiences and observations. But just living your life on the air usually leads to boring, self-absorbed shows. The trick is turning your real life observations into stories that listeners can actually relate to.

And that can be hard.

But Mandy Young, one of the air personalities on the Air1 network, has discovered a great technique that works for her. She calls it the inverted funnel.

The Inverted Funnel

Here’s Mandy to explain how it works for her:

There’s a lot to her system, yet it’s also simple. The inverted funnel forces her to craft content that appeals to the broadest audience. It helps her make something more relatable.

Content Sources

Mandy’s workflow starts with being alert. As she goes through her everyday life, she’s always thinking about the show. So when she sees a fork in her kid’s bathroom, she makes a note of it.

She doesn’t stop and develop the break immediately, but she knows there’s something there. That’s major. Whether you keep notebooks or send yourself an email or make a note in an app on your phone, train yourself to gather those random thoughts that can become content later.

Developing The Break

But Mandy knows that just talking about the fork in the bathroom is going to be self indulgent and the audience just isn’t going to care. So she develops the idea into a story.

I love how she turned it into something much more interesting just by adding “Why” to the segment. Now there’s the start of a story, and listeners can actually be involved. And, the story starts working it’s way up the inverted funnel toward a broader audience.

A useful tool for building a segment is this show prep topic form. It’s probably more detail than you need for most breaks, but you can pick and choose what you need for each topic.

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Download “Show Prep Topic Form” Show-Prep-Single-Topic-Form.docx – Downloaded 443 times – 191 KB

Isn’t it interesting how Mandy talks about collaboration. When she gets stuck, she gets help! Sometimes all you need to find the right entry point or perspective for a break is some input from someone else. Develop your network of collaborators and use each other as a resource!

Plan The Hook

In you want the audience in your inverted funnel, they have to hear what you have to say. And they won’t hear it unless they’re hooked quickly. Mandy admits that finding a strong hook isn’t her strength. By the way, she’s being modest. She’s actually quite good at it. It just doesn’t come easily for her!

The hook is often overlooked in planning on-air content. Don’t let that happen to you. You can’t just wing it and hope listeners are intrigued. Some shows spend as much as 80% of their prep time on story angle, tease and hook. That’s actually appropriate. If you get those things right, the rest of the break will often come together nicely.

The Show Planner

Mandy keeps a detailed show planner every day, and you should, too. It’s a great way to archive your content and keep track of what you’ve done in the past. We have a template for that, too. You can download the Daily Planner here:

Download “Show Prep: Daily Planner” Show-prep-3-Hour-Daily-Planner.docx – Downloaded 156 times – 73 KB

Or if you prefer, here’s a Weekly Planner that may fit your style better:

Download “Show Prep: Weekly Planner” Show-Prep-Weekly-Planner.xlsx – Downloaded 243 times – 85 KB

Rehearse It

Many personalities think they should wing it on the air and take their chances for how it comes out. Not Mandy. She rehearses. She performs the break and records it before it airs, then listens to it back so she can hear it like a listener. Then she can edit the story in her head before she performs it live.

I love this, especially for solo shows. There’s a good argument to not practice breaks in some multi-cast shows, but most shows get better as they spend more time with the content as it’s going to be heard.

Review It

The final step is to listen, review and critique that performance. What would you do differently? What did you learn from this break that can help tomorrow?

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The Performance

The topic took root and drove several breaks of interesting calls. Here are several that show how it all came together. In the first break, Mandy sets up the story simply.

It’s not rocket-science. It’s not going to change the world. But her small adjustment to ask listeners “Why” gets the story started:

Isn’t it amazing how listeners respond to the most common things? That’s what happened here. In this break, Mandy maintains the topic over the intro of the a song, and does so with an efficient, and funny phone call:

And now the audience has taken over the story. In this segment, a listener tells a story that gets a good laugh from Mandy.


Building a segment on the air isn’t always substance. It’s story. And many times stories can be built from a small inspiration.

All of this time and effort goes into one topic for one show. That’s a lot. And it’s worthwhile, because without the time invested in preparation, this could have become a generic, less relatable break such as, “What’s the oddest thing your kids have left in the bathroom?” And the calls wouldn’t have been as good. There wouldn’t have been as many. And Mandy’s personality wouldn’t have been showcased as well.

Instead, she gets to a similar place in a more interesting way. This is the process of how you master the art of personality radio.

These methods may not be ideal for your show, but everyone can apply some of Mandy’s inverted funnel technique for getting  that life experience from your brain to your audience’s ears.


Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

For more than 30 years, Johnson has been developing on-air superstars that attract fans, retain audiences and generate revenue.

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