Whether you find yourself with extra time on your hands because you're unemployed at the moment or simply because the pandemic and the time of year has slowed down the day-to-day bustle of your radio job, it's wise to invest the extra hours back into yourself by picking up a new skill. What's that one thing you've always told yourself that you would learn if you had the time? Podcasting? Livestreaming video? TikTok? Whatever it is, now is the time to learn.
If you're not sure where to start, here are a few ideas:
1. Take an Online Course
There are tons of websites that offer online courses, including Udemy, Coursera, and Udacity. In addition to paid courses, there are also many free offerings. I've taken a screenwriting class taught by Aaron Sorkin through Masterclass, and I have a storytelling class taught by Alex Blumberg from Creative Live lined up in my queue. I'm also learning to use Adobe After Effects by taking a StackSkills class.
Online courses allow you to move at your own pace. I find them helpful because I constantly need to watch videos again, and I can do so without worrying about falling behind. Try one and see if it suits your learning style.
2. Join an Online Community
Whatever topic you're trying to learn, whatever problem you're trying to solve, whatever technical issue you're facing, there's a good chance that you're not the only one. If you join an online community, such as a Facebook or LinkedIn group, you can find peers who are more than willing to help. I have found countless answers to my questions from folks in the Podcast Movement group on Facebook, which has more than 50,000 podcasters in it. They've discussed everything from the best microphone to buy to the significance of acquisitions in the industry. Now that I am increasingly turning my attention to video production, I have joined Facebook groups dedicated to the Mevo camera and eCamm Live streaming software.
There are communities dedicated to just about every topic you can imagine. Over the weekend, I had questions about a fireplace insert I had installed at my house. Sure enough, I found an active forum at Hearth.com, where a number of experienced fireplace enthusiasts were willing to share their wisdom with a newbie like me.
3. Read (or Listen to) a Book
Even though one of my new favorite pastimes is identifying the titles of the books that cable news talking heads have painstakingly selected to decorate the shelves behind them as they broadcast from home, I rarely buy physical books these days; they take up too much space compared to my Kindle. However, I make an exception for how-to books, because I like having an easily available reference — preferably with pictures — within grasp. As a result, my bookshelves are primarily lined with cookbooks and cocktail tomes — along with Sound Reporting and Out on the Wire, two fantastic books about storytelling in the podcasting and public radio space.
If reading isn't your thing, try audiobooks. Valerie Geller's Beyond Powerful Radio is a book that I wish I had read much earlier in my career, as it's chock full of great advice for aspiring on-air talent and program directors. But I haven't read her book; I listened to it as an audiobook through Audible. I thoroughly enjoyed it, in part because audio version of the book features a number of luminaries from our industry giving advice in their own voice.
4. Watch Videos
I honestly have no idea how anybody maintained a home before the invention of YouTube. No wonder it took such a big staff to run Downton Abbey! My father is far handier than I am, but he's lives in a timezone that is three hours behind mine, so when I am trying to repair something around the house on my own, I inevitably turn to the video-sharing website. Whether I've need to replace a spark plug in my lawn mower or solder a coaxial cable, there's always been a video to show me how to do it.
But YouTube has also helped me answer specific questions that have helped me grow my skillset. For example, I built my own soundproof panels for a recording studio by following a helpful video from Ray Ortega. Whether you're looking for a specific way to configure your R0decater Pro or trying to figure out how to remove plosives in Adobe Audition, YouTube is an invaluable resource.
5. Just Do It
When it comes to the digital space, I'm the Where-The-Rubber-Meets-The-Road guy here at Jacobs Media. I spend my days teaching broadcasters how to execute their digital strategies in very specific detail. I show them how to set up automated email campaigns using RSS feeds, configure the ID3 tags on their podcasts, and to find the right plugin for their WordPress website. The only reason I know how to do these things is because I have done them myself. My degree isn't in digital strategy; these are all things that I've taught myself.
I have found that the best way to teach myself these tactics is to have a project that gives me a reason to learn them. I call these projects my “sandboxes.” For example, many of the strategies we teach radio stations we use with our own Jacobs Media website; I host a number of podcasts, which keeps me up to date on podcasting techniques; and by producing event like our recent CES VIP tour, I am constantly learning to use new software programs. That's why I am a strong advocate of finding a pet project that will force you to learn new skills.
This side project doesn't need to be a high-stakes endeavor. Don't put too much pressure on yourself by requiring such a project turn into a huge profit center or reinvent your career. It's okay to launch a new venture with a more modest goal: broadening your skillset.
With so many digital resources available, it's never been easier for old dogs to learn new tricks — even as we're largely confined to our homes. Don't waste this opportunity. Invest in yourself today.