By Mike Kinosian
NEW YORK — Whether through the recently-concluded World Baseball Classic won by Team USA in an 8-0 shutout over Puerto Rico or the Olympic Games, our planet famously comes together through athletic competition.
There is a vaguely similar, highly estimable radio counterpart, although it doesn’t require a four-year wait like the WBC or Olympics, and participants won’t require season- or career-ending Tommy John surgery.
Entrants of New York Festivals’ “World’s Best Radio Programs” are evaluated on what they do best and it has been that way ever since these particular honors were established in 1982.
At one point, those currently possessing privately-owned New York Festivals retained the Clio awards as well.
This particular competition spotlights the medium’s most innovative work from a worldwide base of radio station and network staffers, as well as independent producers.
Approximately 150 headings comprise the mega-scale competition.
Virtually everything is covered from news programs; news features; documentaries; entertainment; drama; talk; promos; audio books; podcasts; and student work, prompting New York Festivals International Radio Program competition executive director Rose Anderson to proudly proclaim, “It really is all things audio. It is most important to us that we make New York Festivals Radio Program awards a destination for people all over the world who are creating radio that is interesting, innovative, and of very high quality.”
Ahead-of-the-curve especially as far as podcasts are concerned, NYF World’s Best Radio Programs has had such categories established for several years and even more are added this year to the genre. “The growth in that segment is just phenomenal [so] we want to reach out to that segment of the business,” the extremely engaging Anderson comments. “It is a big advantage for us to have an active advisory board we can go to – we are not randomly crowdsourcing. We are very careful to make sure that people who are doing new and interesting things that potentially could have a big impact on the radio world are being recognized in a forum by international jury members, who have awards themselves. That is very important when you are honoring work.”
Each year, the NYF advisory board evaluates categories to see if there can be any enhancements. “This year, we have added four pretty interesting categories,” Anderson divulges. They are ‘Best Live News Special,’ ‘Music Podcast,’ ‘Personalized Podcast,’ and ‘Heroes Documentary,’ with the latter a bit more than a biography profile documentary. ‘Heroes’ would be ordinary people whose extraordinary acts have influenced others.”
Among the statistics carefully scrutinized by Anderson is the number of countries represented. “We had entrants from about 30 countries last year and I would expect it to be about the same this year,” she predicts. “It’s great to see the level of excellence in all different genres coming from all over the world.”
Genuine “grand” jury
Past award winners comprise the competition’s grand jury panel and just over one of every three – 35% – are women. “Everyone on our grand jury is involved in creating programming at the highest level,” beams Anderson, who earned her University of Massachusetts undergraduate degree as a history major and a Boston University master’s degree in broadcast journalism. “We have approximately 120 jury members who come from 20 different countries.”
All of them have won NYF competition awards and they represent companies that include WNYC, New York City; the BBC; CBC; Irish public-service broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann; Radio Sweden; Radio-TV Hong Kong; Mexico’s Radio Educacion; and Radio New Zealand. “The most valuable thing you should look for in [a grand jury member] is their passion about what they do,” Anderson advises. “After all, they are volunteering their time, but they have created work that has been recognized by their own peers. They are familiar with understanding what excellence is and how it is quantified.”
Fairness is perhaps the greatest challenge. “It all comes down to who is on the jury and their depth of experience,” she explains. “The fact that we have jury members from 20 countries says that we have a 360-degree viewpoint. That – in and of itself – is very valuable because it is not just one country’s way of doing things.”
Representing locales such as Australia, Canada, Dubai, Germany, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Romania, Scotland, and the United States, jury members utilize a one (“not so wonderful”) to ten (“great”) scale. In addition, they are able to write-in comments.
Highest-scoring entries – “Grands” – are what Anderson terms, “best-in-show” in a highly-competitive field. “Those programs have stood out in preliminary and medal-round judging,” she points out. “They are often compelling in subject matter, ambitious in scope, and off-the-charts in degree of difficulty.”
Production value, creativity, content presentation, direction, writing, achievement of purpose, and audience suitability are included in judges’ yardsticks. “We do not break out those criteria as individual scores, but we ask our jury members to consider all those aspects when they are evaluating a piece,” Anderson remarks. “Quite frankly, since our jury members are making terrific radio, they are aware of excellence when they hear it. Our jury system is very transparent – members are listed on our website by name, company, and country. Additionally, we have a photo album, so if jury members want more visibility, we invite them to send us a bio and photo.”
Working with legends
Prior to joining NYF seven years ago, Anderson toiled on five Olympics from Calgary through Nagano on three different television networks. “My first Olympics was in Calgary with ABC Sports,” she elaborates.
Stationed at the ski jumping venue, Anderson was an associate director and worked on creating the “Up Close and Personal” segments. “The next Olympics for me was in Seoul for NBC, where I worked on the primetime broadcasts. In the three Olympics for CBS, I did a variety of tasks in the broadcast center. It was tremendous fun and very rewarding.”
With earlier aspirations of being a foreign correspondent, Anderson had the chance, when at ABC News, to work with longtime venerable newsman Robert Trout, who earlier spent parts of five decades with CBS News. “He was a terrific gentleman – I was just so honored to be working with him,” she recounts of Trout, who was 91 years old when he died in 2000. “People like that were so dedicated to their craft.”
Another especially significant personal highlight for Massachusetts native Anderson was the occasion of working with Curt Gowdy, of whom she enjoyed listening when the late Wyoming broadcaster was the 1951 – 1965 radio and television voice of the Boston Red Sox. “I loved the opportunity to work with him on a couple of games, including one kickoff game in the Meadowlands. I also worked with Curt on a Liberty Bowl telecast. You feel as though you know someone because you have heard them for so long on the radio. He was a fantastic guy and a consummate gentleman. Curt [whose life was claimed by leukemia at age 86 in 2006] was prepared to a level most other people cannot comprehend and he loved every aspect of what he did.”
Upon returning to New York from an Olympics assignment, Anderson landed at the city’s public television outlet, WNET-TV, where she did arts programming production. “After [the September 11 tragedy], however, public television in New York had a budget retrenchment because so much of the money that people would have given went to 9/11 funds instead,” she laments. “The project that I was working on came to an end. I was asked to join the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to run the sports Emmys. That was fabulous because I had been a judge for them for a decade. It was a natural transition and really pretty cool since I had worked with – and knew – the community.”
Without borders or quotas
Technological advances have resulted in NYF giving time back to entrants. “It used to be that we would get entries on CD, but now we upload files and it cuts our preparation,” Anderson details. “Today’s entries are made on a level of complexity that wasn’t possible in years past. If standing at the podium at the awards gala surrounded by your peers who know that radio is the universal language isn’t return on investment, I don’t know what is.”
Those wishing to go through the judging process though need to pick up the pace as the deadline to enter is the middle of this month, with winners slated to be announced June 19 at a formal dinner in New York City.
Excerpts of the award-winners will be played at that event, which will be videotaped and made available on the NYF website. “We have sponsorship opportunities and we have media partners,” Anderson states. “We work with the United Nations Department of Public Information, which convenes a special panel to honor radio broadcasts that best exemplify the U.N.’s ideals and goals – that’s pretty special.”
While some other competitions use the word “world,” Anderson opines they are not totally inclusive. “We do not make any distinction between where something was created and where it plays. It is very important that we include all nations [thus] we have no geographical boundaries or quotas.”
International experience from the Olympics component of her impressive resume is something unique that Anderson brings to her NYF position. “It is about the integrity of the process and recognizing the fact that people who make the work dedicate themselves to what they are doing,” she emphasizes. “The people I meet; those who win awards; and our jury members all inspire me with their passion. Some of the work that these men and women do is just phenomenal. It runs from huge, live productions to podcasts about how people deal with personal issues. Seven years ago, the categories were left from the analog age. We canvassed industry leaders to join an advisory board and went to work. The net result has been more entries from more countries and an ever-increasing year by year superior level of quality in our submissions.”
One BBC reporter, for example, embedded herself with a family in Syria, filing reports along the way. “As I listen to the submissions, I echo what the grand jury members are saying: This is fantastic work – how great it is to have these people recognized on a bigger venue,” Anderson asserts. “There is something really wonderful about providing a platform for excellence to be rewarded, and we do have gold, silver, and bronze [microphone] medals.”
Contact managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com