Friday, April 24, 2015


Public Radio News Directors (“PRNDI”) hosts an annual awards competition called The PRNDI Awards as part of its yearly conference. The 2015 PRNDI Conference is being held [LINK] Wednesday 6/24 – Saturday 6/27 in Salt Lake City.

I am leading the judging for the talk show category.  I am aware that going behind the scenes of awards judging is a risky endeavor. The purpose of my reporting is to inform people who might be entering any kind of media competition about -- best practices and what not to do.  I assure that I will maintain complete confidentiality and objectivity.  I always appreciate feedback on my work [].



I prefer to have the first meeting of the judges in person.  I started in person meetings back in the days entries were on cassette.   It made more sense than mailing the tapes.

Now with online judging it is much easier to work alone but still prefer in-person first meetings because it gets all of the judges on the same page.

At the first meeting I go over the basics of the task ahead.  I share the PRNDI judging guidelines, talk about the number of entries and when we need to deliver the results. I also add my own suggestions such as:

Imagine someone in [the entrant city] listening to this alone. Will this story resonate with that listener?

Does the content of program advance the story? Are there takeaways?

Trust your gut.  Avoid getting too analytical. Ask yourself: Would I listen to this?


I ask the judges to be upfront about any conflicts of interest (or perceived conflicts) they might have with an entry or entrant.  In my years of judging I have had judges recuse themselves two times.

I know some people might fear one of the judges might fall prey to Friends With Benefits to sway their opinions.  This has never happened to me – I tell the other judges to notify me if it happens to them. People should know I Speak Truth to Power and I’ve been doing it all my life.

ENTRY TIP: Make use of the online introduction space provided next to the link to the audio.  I am surprised by how many entrants don’t say anything, or (even worse) fill the space with long-winded background details. The best blurbs are like on-air promos – to the point and create interest in the entry.


I ask the judges to take notes while listening and give a ballpark rating. One purpose of the first round is separating the contenders from the wannabees. We try to give each entry ample listening time. But occasionally there are obvious flaws.

ENTRY TIP: Things to avoid in your entry:

Poor audio quality

Inconsistent microphone levels

Too much cellphone audio

Extraneous material before the entry program begins (Scope or delete
newscasts and promos)

These clunkers seldom happen with PRNDI entries.  During some other competitions the judging room sounds like The Gong Show.

Next post: The process moves to the Second Round.


Do not provide an open bar for the judges.

I experienced an open bar for judges once. Back in the 1970s. I was in the ad agency business. I participated in quite a few local and regional American Advertising Federation (“AAF”) competions.  Their awards are called The Addys.

I was asked to be on a judging panel for a regional contest in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  When I arrived at the hotel where the judging was occurring I went to the meeting room.  10:00am on a Tuesday. A full open bar was in the room.

Men in suits resembling Harry Crane (Mad Men) or Herb Tarlek (WKRP) were standing by the bar drinking Bloody Marys and eating pretzels. I didn’t imbibe.

The Binge Judging began and we made it through the category Local TV Spots – Thirty Seconds or Less by time for lunch. The hotel served little wieners in red sauce and deep-fried cheese curds, all washed with a local beer.

Judging slowed down in the afternoon. People began to nod off during the radio ad categories.  The plan was to have a light dinner and keep judging in the evening.

But before that came Happy Hour.  Free hard drinks, beer and wine with delicious jumbo shrimp. If you’ve seen the movie Cedar Rapids you can guess what happened next. Youngish hipsters on expense accounts were let loose in a City of Sin. I skipped the bar crawl.

The next morning, the judging continued.  We were under pressure to get it done because many of us had flights to catch. The quality of judging deteriorated. I promise this won’t happen with the PRNDI Awards.

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