Find your niche
When you start out in radio you’ve got to be like a sponge, absorbing all the techniques and tricks of the trade of those around you. And the truth is, this never really stops as time goes on. Technology changes, you may move to another role or fresh ideas are tried out. That’s the beauty of working in a creative industry; no two days are the same. You’ll get to try new things all the time – learning as you go.
My old school motto was ‘Education for Life’ and at the time I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting in a metaphorical classroom forever! Maybe it meant the things you learn in school stay with you but I now take it to be that you never stop learning. Part of that process is receiving advice. I’ve had lots of it over the years and have chosen to follow it from people I trust. Two pieces of advice I received throughout my career stick with me to this day… even though they are, in essence, contradictory.
“Don’t specialise too soon”.
This advice was given to me when I was presenting music programmes on community stations and I wanted to make the jump into becoming professional. I was specialising in the chill out / easy listening genre at the time. Having presented the same style of shows on three separate stations. I adore music and have a massive passion for it… But the advice was right.
There are very few opportunities out there for people who specialise in particular genres, in an industry which is shrinking, even for mainstream presenters. The specialist music presenters I know combine their work with other roles in the creative industries – for example club DJing alongside their programme – or something else entirely. You should never lose sight of your passion and there’s more ways to demonstrate that than ever. Blogs, Vlogs, podcasts. If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.
“Find your niche…”
My passion for radio developed beyond just music and my fascination with broadcasting grew the more of the medium I consumed. I’d been told I needed develop as many skills as possible, so you name it and I did it. From roadshows to promo to research to interviews to desk driving to street team to making jingles to presenting and producing… if it was something to do with radio I wanted to know about it. The anorak within me was unleashed!! Zzzzzzip!
I was doing anything and everything, then one day at a networking event I was told to ‘find my niche’. This was confusing, since I’d been told not to specialise before. Then I looked at where I wanted my career to go in the future and I combined this with the voice work I’d been doing. My niche was news.
Only news isn’t a niche. There’s so many roles you can do under that umbrella term: reporter, producer, bulletin reader and that’s just skimming the surface. However, hearing that advice helped me get the direction I needed to enrol on a masters in broadcast journalism.
You need to use your judgement, of course. Not every piece of advice you receive will be right for you. One person actually told me not to enrol on a course, which if I had followed wouldn’t have led me to where I am now. In fact, my whole life would be very different – a scary thought!
It’s funny how things said way back when can strike a chord many years later. I remember going to a school progress review meeting one day. It was getting close to exam time and we were thinking about careers. My form tutor said “what about being a journalist?” I laughed and said “Absolutely not!” Well, I didn’t know then how happy I’d be now.
I’m still learning new things all the time and I’m still and all-rounder. In the past year I’ve reported on a stories and made them into an audio package of my report. I’ve read news bulletins, produced programmes, planned upcoming outside broadcasts and I’ve presented a specialist music programme.
Since joining BBC Radio Cumbria in August I’ve been learning lots of new things. Over the past month or so I’ve been the social media reporter. Looking after content that has aired on the breakfast programme and also made into short films for the Facebook page too. I’ve enjoyed learning to edit video again; a skill which I hadn’t used in years.
Even though my work has taken me in a direction I maybe didn’t expect at the start of my broadcasting career on student radio, it feels right. It would’ve been wrong to specialise too soon and miss out on opportunities that were to come because I opened my mind to other possibilities. The great thing is, I still get to utilise my passion in many ways and look forward to what else is around the corner.