Monday, April 27, 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 [].

Today’s post is the final post in this series. After the PRNDI Awards are presented in late June, I’ll post the winners and more about thecompetition.


The purpose of the Second Round is to focus on entries the judges feel are candidates for First or Second place winners – sort of like the quarterfinals in a sports competition.

Truth be told, my judging panel hasn’t finished the First Round yet – and that is a good thing.  There are many excellent entries in the big newsroom category.  This causes the judging to slow down. So be it. 

Last year over half of the entries could have won First or Second.  I wish there was a way to acknowledge more than two winners.  At this point in the judging, decisions are often subjective.  Here are some of the X factors:


Panels are often useful to get a range of opinions on issues. Sometimes panels are cumbersome and cease to be “radio” as we know it.  Let me give you an example.

A couple of years ago one entry explored an important local law enforcement dispute.  The program contained a panel with four people, the program host and several callers.  In the first 20 minutes the judges counted 7 (SEVEN!) different voices. The discussion was impossible to follow despite the importance of the topic.  The panel guests might have been household names in the entrants’ city, but you had to be from there to understand who was speaking and the context of their remarks.

This is not only an awards judging issue, it is Radio Program Design 101 – use practices that work on each platform. Panel discussions work in person or on video because frame-of-reference material is available.  Edit the material for broadcast.

ENTRY TIP: Put yourself in the judge’s shoes when you consider entering a program featuring a panel discussion.  Remember the judges probably aren’t located in your city. Some names, voices and places you take for granted aren’t familiar to the judges (or even some of your listeners. To test the program’s effectiveness send the program to friend in a distant city to ask if they can follow the discussion.


Several years ago, a major NPR News station entered a program in the PRNDI Awards with live coverage of the opening of a new cultural center.  It was an exciting moment for the city.  The program went live on the air. The ceremony started with music.  Then the unexpected happened.

The event organizers failed to dounle check the audio amplifier.  The host started to speak but his mic was not turned on.  No one could hear anything except muffled voices and crowd noise. Back at the station, the board operator left the audio on the air for over a minute (that seemed like an hour). The board op didn’t say what was happening, then played a prerecorded PSA for a blood drive.  Then he played a promo for a station event.

Finally the stage audio came back on with a feedback shriek. The program resumed and it sounded pretty good.  But the judges could never get over the snafu. I’ve hoped that the folks who entered it did so to give the judges a welcome laugh.

ENTRY RTP: Consider covering live events like they are a sporting events.  Rather than airing a continuous live feed from the stage, provide segments of play-by-play describing the event.  This puts the station in the role of observer – same as the listener. Remember, when you are considering airing a live event, keep as much RADIO CONTROL as you can.


Of course the impact of a program matters. Sometimes there are tangible results that can be measured: a bill passed in the legislature or a commission to investigate a societal wrong. Most of the time there is no metric to show the impact of a story – what happened because the station aired it. This is tough to get across to the judges. They are most often judging the sound of the entry.

Sometimes (not often with the PRNDI Awards) creative contests become beauty pageants. Here is an example from my Mad Men days. In the 1970s I was part of a judging team for a regional Addy Awards competition in Omaha.

One of the most unusual entries was a print campaign for a Solid Gold Swizzle Stick.

SOLID GOLD SWIZZLE STICKS (not the ones in the story)

The creator of the Solid Gold Swizzle Stick was a wealthy businessman with too much time and money on his hands. (He was rumored to be the black sheep of the Buffet family.) The goal was to get his name and the Solid Gold Swizzle Stick listed in the Neiman-Marcus catalog.

He hired one of the best ad firms in town.  He paid to have a Japanese photographer (who also worked for Playboy) to take promo pictures of the Solid Gold Swizzle Stick. A friend who worked at the agency back then said it required three trips to Tokyo.  The pictures were beautiful. Neiman-Marcus added it. But I never heard if any Solid Gold Swizzle Sticks were actually sold.  They were $10K for a set of 12, as I recall.

The ad agency decided to enter the photos and brochure in the Addy Awards. The Solid Gold Swizzle Stick won Best of Show – the top award.  People were outraged at the choice.  But that didn’t matter because it was the judges’ decision: Beauty won over content and common sense.

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