Sony Radio Academy Awards – A Look Back

[UPDATE: Many of the charts on this page are now broken. Please see the 2014 updated version of this page with much more detail.]

The Sony Radio Academy Awards are upon us in a week or so’s time.
But if you want to get a broader view of who has won what over the years since the awards started in 1983 (and have always been sponsored by Sony)… then you’re out of luck.
The official website has details for 2010 to date, but if you want to look further back then you’ll be doing well. The previous website is now “closed.” But even if you use the Wayback Machine to access snapshots of that site, the old website only goes back to 2005, and the Sonys have been around quite a bit longer than that.
If you search somewhere like Media Guardian, you may find details going a few years further back. But not a great deal further.
The internet will reveal some details here and there. Perhaps the odd radio forum has some details. But it’s an incomplete list and often, only the Gold winners are recorded.
Certainly your regular “go to” website – Wikipedia – is exceptionally poor. Probably because like I found, there’s really very limited data online.
Perhaps if you’ve got a complete paper collection of The Radio Magazine, then you might have some better luck. And some back issues of Broadcast magazine may also be of some help.
If you subscribe to the right online services, perhaps you have access to national press reports down the years. But such reports are likely to be incomplete highlighting perhaps just a few big names and not the smaller winners. Even if you broaden the search to local newspapers you’re probably looking at quite a gargantuan task.
So broadly speaking, you’re out of luck.
Part of me thinks that this is indicative of the poor state of affairs of radio at looking after its own history – David Lloyd aside! And partly it’s of the awards not perhaps always getting the coverage they deserve.
So I’ve been meaning for ages to do something about this.
Sometime back in 2008 I managed to get hold of a paper printout of all the award winners of all the awards made to that date. I’ve added more recent awards and nominees, and I’m pretty happy the cumulative list is as accurate as anywhere.
This was not an insignificant undertaking, taking many hours. I used that paper list, some bulk scanning, OCR-ing, and a lot manual correction. And I had to wrangle all that data into some kind of sensible and useful format. You can understand why I’ve been “sitting” on that list for quite some time. However, I’ve come to the point where I’m happy with my database.
But I can’t be certain, and there may be errors in it.
I may have transcribed something wrongly, or I may be missing data. I’ve tried to put stations into groups, but that’s not necessarily completely accurate since ownership structures change (and I’m therefore avoiding summarising wins by groups accordingly).
Stations change names too – sometimes quite a great deal. I’ve used the names as they were originally stated aside from some cleaning up to overcome “branding” exercises. So once it had been given the “Live” soubriquet, I’ve called it “BBC Radio 5 Live” rather than “BBC Radio Five Live” as it was known for a while. On the otherhand BBC Radio 5 continues to exist on its own. I’ve tried to be consistent with uppercase “FM”s even when there were phases when marketing departments loved the lowercase “fm”.
But do let me know if you spot any howling errors once I put the whole thing up.
I can’t claim to be an expert on the Sony Awards. I’ve only watched from afar, and have little detail about how they’re run and judged. But for most of their history, Gold, Silver and Bronze awards have been made in most categories. The exceptions tend to be the “big” awards such as the various “Station of the Year” awards where only a Gold is handed out. Runners up are simply “Nominees” in those instances.
However in the data that I was able to collate, I only have a note of the Gold awards for the first couple of years. It may be that on a single winner was handed out per category at that time. I’m not sure. But it’s only in 1985 that I have a note of Silver and Bronze awards as well.
And aside from some commendations, I only have details of the full lists of nominees and not just winners, from 2000. So there are probably quite a few nominees missing.
Today if you visit the official website, there are enormously full lists of every producer and assistant responsible for any nominated show. But that certainly hasn’t been the case for all that long, at least in the records that I’ve obtained. I’ve collated a “Production” category, but with the exception of a few IRNs and BBC Externals, it’s only from 1992 onwards that a few independent production companies’ names start creeping in. Around the same time, some BBC department names, and notably, commercial radio news teams, get credited for productions.
Of course these aren’t in any way consistent over time. In particular, BBC internal departments seem to be named according to the whim of whichever individual put the entry in. And that’s before you take account of those departments regularly changing names semi-regularly.
It’s also not always clear whether a person has received a Gold Award for their work in either BBC Radio or commercial radio, or just radio in general. Sometimes the person has only worked in one place, but these days many have stepped across the line, and may well have started out on commercial radio. Either way, some awards aren’t categorised as either BBC or Commercial wins.
So having collated all this data, what does it tell us?
Richard Park won Local Radio Personality of the Year on Radio Clyde in the very first Sony Awards back in 1983. I wonder whatever happened to him?
Other things to note from that very first set of awards: Terry Wogan won Best Popular Music Programme, while Woman’s Hour won Best Magazine Programme and The World This Weekend won Best Current Affairs Programme. So some things in radio never change.
Radio Active won Best Light Entertainment Programme, and Sue MacGregor and Brian Johnston won, respectively, Female and Male Personalities of the Year.
It must be said that 1983 was fairly dominated by the BBC. Only Piccadilly Radio, Radio Clyde, both with two awards and Essex Radio and Radio City, each with one, broke the stranglehold.
The other Radio Clyde award, though, was for Best Actress reminding us that once upon a time, commercial radio did actually do drama!
The number of drama awards has decreased over time, but I can’t help noticing that having Best Actor and Actress categories did allow some very big names to win awards and, one would imagine, add some glamour to some evenings. Glenda Jackson, Joss Ackland, Tim Piggot Smith, Jane Asher, Anna Massey, Patricia Routledge, Ronald Pickup, Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and Billie Whitelaw all won awards during the first few years of the Sonys.
One of the things people often note about the Sonys is the number of awards. This chart suggests that they’re probably right (although any joint awards are double-counted in this instance). Last year, the number of awards dropped though.

Incidentally, given that the number of awards is criticised so often by some media coverage, I thought I’d look at how many BAFTA TV Awards there are this year. After all, they get presented the night before the Sony’s. This year there are 26 awards on the night compared with radio’s 28 named awards (although I suspect that there’ll be a Gold Award and possibly another special award on the night). However BAFTA also has the Craft awards which have just been awarded – that’s another 20 awards.
But how do those awards breakdown between the BBC and Commercial Radio?

Well clearly, the awards are more level pegging these days, and the gap is being closed. As I mentioned, the “unstated” are simply awards made to people above and beyond BBC or Commercial considerations. There have also been the odd joint award between BBC and Commercial that has been ignored here.
If we look at the most successful stations over time, there’s one thing that stands out – Radio 4 has a lot of Sonys.

Note that I’ve only considered Golds here, and awards shared across more than one station have been ignored. I’ve also left brands alone. Virgin Radio and Absolute Radio would jump up the list if they were a single brand for example.
It does look like Radio 4 is winning slightly fewer awards per year over time though.

What else does a deep dig reveal?
Radio City does well in the early years with Clive Tyldesley winning on a couple of occasions for sport. These days, he’s ITV’s lead football commentator.
The Local Radio Personality of the Year in 1985 was Allan Beswick on Red Rose Radio. 28 years later, he’s still in the north west, now presenting breakfast on BBC Radio Manchester. In 1985, Beswick pipped James Whale to the post – Whale won a silver for his Radio Aire show.
And yes, we do still remember the short stint when it was simulcast on ITV!
From the start there had been an award for Local DJ of the Year. But clearly that discriminated against Radio 1 presenters. So in 1986 the National DJ of the Year category was invented. The problem was that it became an exclusive competition between Radio 1 jocks. I guess that theoretically Radio 2 presenters might have entered, but they probably didn’t even consider themselves “DJs” at that time.
In 1987 Mike Smith won Gold, doing the double in 1988 (by which time it was sponsored by Smash Hits). In 1989 and 1990 Bruno Brookes won, before Simon Mayo won in 1991 and 1992. So while it wasn’t quite simply a reflection of who was presenting the Radio 1 breakfast show at the time, it was a good indicator.
It wasn’t until 1989 that an award for the Best Breakfast Show was first introduced. The initial award saw Les Ross beat Chris Tarrant and Dave Bussey to the Gold.
In 1991 Network Africa on the BBC World Service for Africa beat Chris Tarrant to the Gold in what must have been an extraordinary decision to have to make. Perhaps it wasn’t then surprising that by 1992 the award had been broken up into music and speech based categories.
But by 1993, the INRs had begun to launch with Classic FM first out of the blocks. In a curious amendment to the breakfast show awards, music was further split into “contemporary music” and “non-contemporary” music. Somehow Classic FM managed to win Gold and Silver in that category. “Non-contemporary” only lasted another year before the award reverted to a simple speech and music delineation.
In the early years, split awards were relatively frequent. But sometime in the last ten years or so, stricter rules seem to have been applied, and there’s only one winner per category nowadays. In any case, the rules were clearly a little arbitrary before. Sometimes if two Golds were handed out, then there’d be no Silver and just a Bronze. But other times, essentially four stations would be handed awards.
By the start of the 1990s following the split of AM and FM into separate services on local commercial radio, we begin to see the “Gold” services win awards. Piccadilly Radio 1152 and Capital Gold were early winners.
Lots of names of stations that are no longer with us. London Talkback Radio anyone? (It was one of LBC’s myriad of ill-fated name changes in the late 80s and early 90s before they sensibly returned to calling themselves LBC).
The first Station of the Year award was made in 1989 when BRMB won, beating BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Foyle. What’s odd is that there was no national station of the year until later. I assume that’s because it’d have been a competition between BBC stations – a clearly impossible comparison that perhaps the BBC wasn’t keen to make. Again we had to wait until just before the INRs started in 1992/3 for Wear FM to win an overall “Station of the Year” award beating out Clyde 2 and BBC Radio Newcastle. LAter, of course, delineations between station sizes were made.
From the beginning of the Sony’s there was clearly a need to make some “Lifetime Achievement” types of awards to longstanding people within the radio industry. I’d have thought that “Lifetime Achievement” might have been a good title. But no, the title chosen that just tripped off the tongue was “Sony Gold for Outstanding Contribution to Radio Over the Years.”
Yes – “Over the Years!”
The winners, however, were rather fine. Between 1983 and 1990 awards were handed to Frank Muir and Denis Norden, David Jacobs, BFBS, John Timpson, The Archers, Gerard Mansell (who created Radio 4), Tony Blackburn and Roy Hudd.
They later came up with better names for the award, and today we know it as The Gold Award.
Categories have been and gone in the Sonys. Quite a lot in fact. I don’t think a single category has been unchanged in the history of the awards. 1991 saw the last Children’s Programming Award at a time when BBC Radio 5 was one of the few places children could get radio. These days it’s either Fun Kids or the internet of course.
And the Internet Award ran from 2007 until 2012, but has been scrapped this year, not a popular move amongst podcasters who now have to compete in the main categories should they choose to enter.
We do have the first “Brand of the Year” Award this year of course – something which I’m sure listeners will be very excited about.
If you talk to anyone about talent in UK radio, then a couple names show up all the time: Kenny Everett and John Peel.
So how kind have the Sony’s been to them over all that time?
During the time that he could have won Sony Awards, Everett was broadcasting with Radio 2, Capital Radio and Capital Gold (after they split frequencies) through until 1994. But the first award he got was a Bronze in 1991 for his Capital Gold show for Best Sequence Programme (Jeff Owen on BBC Radio Nottingham won Gold, with John Dunn’s Radio 2 show getting the Silver).
Then in 1994, as his broadcast career ended he was given the “Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution to Radio Over the Years.”
And that’s it. He’s actually won more posthumously – with a further three based on archive material
John Peel has had a longer radio career starting with the birth of Radio 1 and continuing with the BBC until his death in 2004.
Peel won his first award in 1986 picking up the first National DJ of the Year. But it was another seven years before he won National Broadcaster of the Year in 1993. He then had to wait until 1999 when he won Silver for Talk/News Broadcaster of the Year and Gold for Home Truths. Home Truths also won Gold for Short Form Audio that year as well as the Weekend Talk/News Award.
He was nominated for Home Truths as Speech Broadcaster of the Year in 2001, and won The Gold Award in 2002.
In 2007 he posthumously also collected an award – The Broadcaster’s Broadcaster Award.
So Peel was probably more honoured than Everett, although it seems more for Home Truths than his long running Radio 1 music programmes.
I’m probably being a little unfair here as it’s always easier to have twenty-twenty hindsight. But perhaps even our industry doesn’t really appreciate who we have while we have them.
Here’s a nice tough trivia question. Which TV programme won a Sony Radio Award?
It was Blue by Derek Jarman in 1994 which was a Channel 4/BBC Radio 3 simulcast and won a Gold Drama Award. Jarman died in early 1994, probably before he received this award.
Back then few of us would have had stereo TVs, so you could tune in for a fuller soundscape on your FM radio. The picture was simply a blue screen the whole way through (Can you even begin to comprehend Channel 4 doing something like that today?). Blue is available on DVD.
One of my favourite comedy programmes of all time is On The Hour – the radio spoof from Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci et al, that would turn into The Day Today on television. In 1992 it won Silver, and was beaten by a BBC Radio Ulster programme (Perforated Ulster) in the Best Comedy/Light Entertainment Programme category. But On The Hour also introduced the world to Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, and his spin-off series, Knowing Me, Knowing You won Gold the following year. It also headed to TV like so many radio comedies. Alan, of course, gets his own film based around his current station, North Norfolk Digital, later this year.
Virgin Radio got their first award in 1995 – a Silver for Russ & Jono in the “Breakfast Show: Music Based.” They were beaten by Sarah Kennedy on Radio 2. Talk Radio won its first award – a Bronze – in 1996 with “There’s Only One Gary Newbon” in the Response to a News Event category. Quite what that event was, I don’t know.
The 1996 “Breakfast Show: Music Based” award is interesting because it features – in order – three Virgin Radio breakfast shows in a row. Gold that year went to Russ & Jono, the incumbents on Virgin. Silver went to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show who at the time was still on Radio 1 (Evans would join Virgin and take over breakfast of course). And Bronze went to the Steve Penk Breakfast Show on Key 103. When Evans was fired by Virgin, Penk stepped in to take over breakfast.
And while I’m talking about Virgin Radio, I can’t help but note that in 2000 it managed to beat Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to the punch, being the first broadcast outlet to give away that much cash. But it still only managed to get a nomination in the competition category. The million pounds was also delivered outside a RAJAR period just to indicate how poorly conceived the plan was!
At the turn of the millennium, another new and interesting development started. In 2001 we got The 2000 Award – going to Terry Wogan. This was followed by the 2001 Award in 2002 and 2002 Award in 2003. Sometime around then, the madness stopped.
While it’s clear that the categories awarded in the Sony’s have been changed over time to make sure that there’s a fairer split across different types of stations, you can’t help feeling that news and speech based breakfast shows always feel that they’re on a hiding to nothing when it comes to The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.
But is that actually the case? Could it be possible that the excellence and journalistic resource that the programme has works against it? This is a list of all the Gold Awards that Today specifically has won over the last thirty years.
Best Current Affairs 1984, 1989
Best Response to a News Event 1989, 1990, 1994
Best Daily News Programme 1990
Best Breakfast Show: Speech Based 1992, 1995
News Award 1998 (shared)
News Coverage Award 2003
The Breakfast Show Award 2007
News Journalist of the Year 2007 (John Humphrys)
Breakfast Show of the Year 10m+ 2010
That’s only 13 Gold awards which is probably surprisingly few all things considered.
(Note that others may have won awards for work partly carried out on Today, but I’m considering programme specific awards here).
To put this in perspective, I think PM has only won about four specific Gold awards over the same time. And I’ve not even looked at The World at One.
Here’s another piece of trivia. Did you know the current editor of The Sun has a Sony Gold? Dominic Mohan has one for a 2003 Virgin Radio special on The Who.
A couple of notes:
I’m not aware that a record of the award winners is in any way copyright, but obviously I do not wish to tread on anybody else’s toes. The awards did for many years belong to Zafer Associates, and they’ve recently been passed over to the Radio Academy. I’m not aware of any value in the data, and most of it is in the public domain (albeit, really hard to get hold of as I’ve said). Finding past BAFTA TV winners isn’t as hard, although even Wikipedia entries trail off in the mid-nineties.
Nonetheless, I’ve not put the entire database –
yet. Although post the 2013 awards, I will do so.
Please shout if you believe that this is not a good thing.
At least then, some diligent individuals can populate Wikipedia (I can’t be bothered as getting the data this clean has taken me far too long). And we can continue to shout from the rooftops about great radio.