sony radio awards

Who’s Missing from the ARIAS?

Virgin Radio's First Sony Award

Earlier this week, the nominations for the inaugural ARIAS were announced. These are effectively the replacement of the former Sony Radio Awards, following Sony departing as a sponsor, and the Radio Academy reorganising itself and slimming down.

Over the 16 award categories, the BBC has 54 nominations, including several catetgories that only feature BBC nominees, while Bauer has 8 nomations, the Wireless Group 3, and several other groups one each.

Notably absent are any Global Radio nominees.

It was hard to see past the thought that Global had simply not entered the awards. For example, you would quite comfortably expect LBC to be up for some of its news and current affairs coverage, while Classic FM has previously always done well.

This morning Radio Today has confirmed that Global simply didn’t enter:

“We aren’t members of the Radio Academy so we haven’t entered their awards. We wish everyone who’s been nominated loads of luck.”

It’s true. The slimmed down Radio Academy is no longer supported by Global. But that doesn’t actually mean that they’re not allowed to enter the ARIAS.

It seems as though Global has taken a “We’re not going to play” attitude to the awards, depsite being the biggest commercial radio group in the country. It would be analagous to ITV not entering the BAFTAs.

Look – I understand that for whatever reason, Global doesn’t want to support a cross-industry body that promotes radio such as the Radio Academy. Getting a group of people in a room to all agree on something is hard, and during the reformation of the Radio Academy, a consensus seemingly couldn’t be achieved.

It’s a real shame, but it’s just about understandable. Global’s attention is probably currently concentrated on their recently opened Global Academy in Hayes.

But not participating in the ARIAS is surely akin to a sulking child picking up his ball and saying he won’t play the game any more because the others have scored too many goals.

“Their awards”?

Was it the entry fees? Awards are expensive and entry fees and selling tickets go towards funding a glizty evening. Traditionally this has been somewhere fancy in London, but the ARIAS are moving away from the capital and will take place at the First Direct Arena in Leeds.

Is it the awards categories? Does Global not think they match the kind of output its stations produce. Actually, I think Global could probably enter in the majority of categories.

By not entering the ARIAS, Global is really denying its staff the chance to compete against the rest of the UK radio industry. Certainly there are the Arqiva Awards, but they’re only for commercial radio (and unfortunately, they suffer their own boycotts).

Whereas if you win one of the ARIAS, you can triumphantly proclaim that you are the best in the country regardless. It’s something you’ll put on your CV and will be with you for the rest of your career in the industry and beyond.

Winning an award engenders an enormous amount of pride in your staff. Winning something like Station of the Year can mean an awful lot, and filters through to everyone including those who don’t directly work on-air. And if you work on an award-winning show, you might find a better job, or get a promotion in your current place of work off the back of it. For commercial groups, advertisers love awards ceremonies. If something they had a part in wins an award, it’s reflective of them too. Agencies and clients love the glitz and glamour of the evening too.

This is the first year of the ARIAS, and undoubtedly there’ll be some teething problems. The entry period was a bit short. Making your entry sound great is key to winning an award, and this takes time. Some of the categories will no doubt need tweaking too. For example, I think that a category that can encompass radio promotions or competitions is important. Yes, that tends to be a commercial category, but perhaps the best and most creative pieces of radio that some stations produce actually come when they run on-air competitions. I’d also like to see a factual award that allows popular documentaries to compete.

And if you don’t think your station makes radio that can win awards in a fair fight against the rest of the commercial sector and a licence-fee funded BBC, I have news for you.

You can.

Be a bit more ambitious, and go out and make something!

Certainly, your schedule might mostly be music, but that doesn’t stop you producing, say, a one-off programme or documentary on something relevant or important to your listeners. And if you haven’t got the skills internally, then bring in an indie to help. It needn’t be expensive, and once broadcast, you’ve got something awards-friendly right there and ready to go! Obviously it’ll need to be good, but your station is probably brimming with creativity just waiting to be let off the leash and do something extraordinary. If you’re really smart, you can get it sponsored and it might actually make you some money too!

So I really hope Global has a change of heart and next year lets its employees, including some of the most incredibly talented folk in the industry, enter what are undoubtedly the UK’s premier radio awards.

The Future of The Radio Academy

On Friday, The Radio Academy released an unusual press release that detailed how next year’s Radio Academy Awards were being cancelled, as was the Radio Festival. Furthermore, buried at the end, was news that the “Executive Unit” was being closed down. A new, unspecified London-based event, would replace both the Awards and Festival in due course.

What did all this mean?

First of all, I have no specific knowledge of what the underlying problem might be, but let’s go through some of them in turn.

Ending the Radio Academy Awards, aka The Sony Awards is very sad indeed. Sony themselves, ended their very long sponsorship run in 2013, and this year the awards didn’t have a headline sponsor, instead having a number of category sponsors.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Sony Awards (I even compiled a complete list of every Sony/Radio Academy Award ever), because they were the one place where both BBC and commercial radio competed together for excellence in UK radio. There were always fights and divisions over whether the BBC did unfairly well because the award categories were biased towards them, but in recent years newer categories meant that for the most part commercial radio could compete (and if it wasn’t winning awards, might that be because a lot of their radio wasn’t good enough?). Anyway, while I’m not privy to discussions surrounding it, I don’t tend to hear ITV moaning that the BBC has won too many BAFTA Awards.

And let’s be clear, the cancellation of the Sony’s is the equivalent of BAFTA deciding not to bother with the television awards. A Sony win always ends up on the CV of anybody lucky enough to get one, and it certainly did anything but good for someone’s future. For many, the Sony’s were the truest recognition of radio excellence among their peers. Commercial Radio has its Arqivas, and BBC Local Radio has its Gillards, but the Sony’s were the one thing that everyone fought for.

Furthermore, last time I checked, Award ceremonies usually made money. Although the details aren’t clear from the Charity Commission’s website for the Radio Academy, even allowing for the cost of feeding the radio industry with luke warm chicken in a Park Lane hotel, the entry fees and attendance costs for the night itself, should mean a profitable enterprise. Indeed many awards ceremonies outlive anything that they were previously tied to because they’re profitable in their own right.

Then there’s the Radio Festival. For the last few years, this had settled into a new home in Salford – attempting to replicate the Edinburgh TV Festival model of making a permanent home. Previously it had floated around for a few years. Salford was never perfect, with a decent chunk of the industry having to come up from the south, but the area is hardly out of reach, being a couple of hours away on the train.

This year’s Festival was the first for ages that I’d missed, but I heard very good things about it, and having subsequently spoken to a number of attendees, many thought that it was the best Festival in years.

I confess that I am slightly biased having sat for the last couple of years on the TechCon committee, the technical sub-conference that takes place annually, also under the auspices of the Radio Academy. But that too was a useful place for a discrete group of radio “techies” to get together and discuss what they’re doing and what the future holds.

I suspect that the finances of the Radio Festival are harder to calculate. It’s never cheap hiring out somewhere like the Lowry theatre for several days (this being a working theatre that usually accommodates week-long touring productions), as well as attendant costs surrounding staffing, technology, and so on. Some of this is probably mitigated by sponsorship, but I suspect that the overall event is break-even at best.

Radio does need its own conference. However uncertain our industry is at the moment, with new technologies delivering audio and fighting for our “ears” – we still need somewhere to talk about things honestly, hear best practices and celebrate our medium. And make no mistake, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone else to fill in the void – particularly if a conference was to be broadened out to include other streaming and audio services. “RadioDays UK” anyone?

Let’s hope that a new event that encompasses the Awards and the Festival does really achieve that. I would, however, point out that attendees of the Sony Awards and Radio Festival were not the same people. Yes the very senior-most probably get to go to both. But the Sony’s were primarily there for those who actually make radio. So presenters, producers and those who help craft the audio were those we truly celebrated. It’s not for nothing that I only ever got to go to the Sony’s once – and then at short notice when someone dropped out. On the other hand, at the Festival, it was more the “suits” – the executives who delivered new strategies or ways of thinking and doing business. Certainly the art of radio was also discussed, but for the most part, the only “talent” attending the Festival were there to speak rather than to sit in the audience.

So whatever this new event is to be, it’s important to remember that there are different constituencies that the Awards and Festival used to serve.

Then there’s the closure of the “Executive Unit” – the four fulltime staff who sit in the Academy’s small London office, neighbours of DRUK, RadioCentre and RAJAR. These are the people who actually put these events on, and administer the things that the Radio Academy has been doing. I’m not at all clear how this new event (or the others that continue under the Academy’s auspices) will take place without a staff to administer it. Certainly you can outsource your events management, and I assume that’s what the Trustees have decided is better value. But that comes at the cost of knowledge.

And I’m not at all clear what this means for the regional events side of the Academy, and the Masterclasses that they organised to help people learn how to get into the industry. All those meetings where you could sit and learn about what we do as a medium. Will those continue? Who will organise them? Indeed with only a part-time CEO left, I’m not sure what the Radio Academy is going to be able to do for itself. While many of these events have local volunteer committees, it’s the guiding hand of an overall Academy that helps them achieve their aims.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more misleading the release we had on Friday really is. This isn’t just an amendment to a couple of events; this is a fundamental change, and arguably, is the dismantling of the Radio Academy. It’s particularly vague to say that the Academy has “an ambition” to create a new event. We all have “ambitions” don’t we? Whether we get close to achieving them is something altogether different.

Now I’m not going to argue that the Academy was perfect. Over the summer, the Radio Academy’s Chairman, Ben Cooper, asked “what does it mean to you”?

And here is what I wrote back:

Dear Ben,

What does the Radio Academy mean to me?

To put my thoughts into context, I’ll begin by saying a little about me. I worked at Absolute Radio (and Virgin Radio) for 17 years until earlier this year latterly as Head of Strategy & Planning. I have sat on the TechCon committee for the last three years, I was very briefly on the London committee, and I regularly attended both London Radio Academy events and the Radio Festival for the last few years.

At the moment, I am on a six month contract in News Strategy at the BBC – so indirectly with radio since the World Service is one of the areas I’m looking at.

From a practical perspective, the Radio Academy to me is – or should be – made up of several areas:

  • A place where the industry can meet and exchange views and ideas

  • Somewhere we can celebrate our industry in all its forms

  • A body that can help promote the strengths of the medium to wider audience

  • Somewhere to help people both begin and progress their careers

Beyond these, and in more detail, I have a number of observations. It should be noted that although I’ve been working in radio for more than 17 years, I probably only “discovered” the Radio Academy in the last eight or so.

London Events
It’s disappointing that relatively few people attend some of the London events. The number of people who work in radio in Central London must be a healthy four figure number, and yet you mostly only get the “regulars” who come to pretty much anything that the Academy puts on. They might have an interest in what’s being discussed, but they treat it more as a social event (I must confess to being in this group).
It’s not as though events aren’t “sold out” – but there could and should be a more diverse range of attendees. Indeed, the Academy should be desperately trying to find a bigger venue to meet demand!
Critical to the future of the Radio Academy is attracting a wider reach. I think it can act as a social gathering, but it mustn’t be a closed shop. It needs to be welcoming and try harder to reach the vast number of people who work in the industry and yet have never felt the need to come along.
I would personally forward emails to all staff detailing events that I thought would appeal to staff members. But even then it was like getting blood out of a stone.
Incidentally, I don’t think that this is an issue with the London committee who I know work hard to put on a wide range of events. I think it’s more of an organisational or cultural issue amongst patrons’ stations and groups.

Recognise The Breadth Of What We Do
A lot of time is spent on the craft and output of radio, and rarely on that important and dirty bit that affects half the industry – the commercial part. I suspect that the problem there is that half the Academy’s members might feel that it doesn’t affect them.
If 50% of commercial radio employees don’t feel that the organisation is relevant to them because it ignores what they do, can it really be said to be all encompassing? Similarly, aside from the odd speaker on the occasion, I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone from any agency that buys radio advertising bothering to attend the Radio Festival. A common complaint that’s rightly levelled against commercial radio is that the quality of creative in advertising is pretty poor. This isn’t the place to get into that, but the Radio Festival probably is the right place. And while I’m not sure that I’d see too many agency faces in Salford this October, I’m pretty sure that plenty of their television cousins are heading to Edinburgh in the next few days!
Even persuading people who work in sales teams that they were eligible to enter 30 Under 30 was a challenge.

Do Organisations’ Employees Know They’re Members?
All the big radio groups and many of the smaller groups are patron members, but does everyone within their groups know? And did they realise that they were entitled to attend? Is it part of the induction process when new staff join? How do people even discover the existence of the Radio Academy?
This was a constant battle I fought when I was at Absolute Radio, trying to get a wider group of people beyond “the usual suspects” to attend.

Essential For Your Career
The Radio Academy needs to present itself in a way that would seem to help people’s careers. There shouldn’t need to be a stick to get people along to things, but if sessions were framed in such a way as to help you get on in your chosen profession, then people would attend. Indeed, in a medium that has consolidated significantly, there are fewer jobs in radio, so progression becomes harder. Showing your face amongst your peers should necessarily help people within their careers.

Strengthen the Academy’s Masterclass offering. Last year I had the tiniest of roles in a terrific day co-organised by the BBC Academy and members of the TechCon committee – the Radio Technology Masterclass. The event was completely sold out, and there was a waiting list to get into it.
Yet the Masterclass, for reasons I’m not completely clear about, has not been repeated this year despite a general willingness of those involved to give up another day to do it again.
I believe that the Academy should have a regularly run series of classes that take place throughout the year. These needn’t be completely free, but modestly priced to cover some of the time and costs, and not solely in London or Salford.
Indeed maybe this should just be considered “training.” I don’t know how much training Global or Bauer manage internally, but I know that the BBC Academy is well used resource. Is working with the BBC Academy a way to broaden offerings and make training available to a wider group of people?

A CEO Who Will Last The Course
Appoint a Chief Executive who’s going to be there longer than a year.
I don’t mean to sound flippant or facile, but it feels that the Academy has been a little rudderless for the last couple of years, with CEOs who probably had too much on their plates to spend the right amount of time with the Academy – actually being in the office and attending meetings.
While the calibre of person the Academy needs and the salary that it can afford to pay perhaps means that a full time CEO is hard or impossible to achieve, when the Academy employs its next CEO it needs to ensure that they’re in it for the long haul – ideally at least three years.

Facilitate Cross-Fertilisation
I think that in some areas, technology springs to mind, there’s a good cross fertilisation of ideas between BBC and commercial people. Initiatives including RadioPlayer and the Radio Technology Group allow this. But I’m not at all sure that this is the case elsewhere.
For whatever reason, too many people seem to think that there’s nothing that they can learn from the “other side.” I still recall sitting next to someone I didn’t know on a bus to gala dinner in The Monastery in Gorton who turned out to be a producer on Radio 4’s Front Row. He didn’t listen to anything apart from Radio 4, and the whole experience of attending the Radio Festival had opened his eyes. He hadn’t realised what an incredible breadth and range of offerings that there were.
Similarly, I see all too few programming people from commercial groups believe that there’s anything they can learn from those not in the commercial sector – indeed even from others in the commercial sector.
This all creates a very narrow vision of what radio is and might be.

Clarify Charitable Status
I must admit that I do find the charitable status of the Radio Academy confusing. I’m sure that there must be a good reason for it, and perhaps it makes it easier for Patron organisations like the BBC or Global Radio able to support it. I just wonder if sometimes it makes it a burden, limiting what it can and can’t do.

Consider Broadening The Academy’s Membership
There’s a battle being fought at the moment over what the word “Radio” actually means. Digitally music services often describe themselves as “Radio” services. In the US, iTunes has co-opted the word for its Spotify equivalent – banishing “traditional” radio to the curious “Internet Radio” nomenclature!
These services aren’t the same as broadcast radio, but most realise that what our audiences want from radio is evolving. Once upon a time you either played an LP or single, or turned on Radio 1 on your AM radio. Today you listen to your music on iTunes, rent music from Spotify on your smartphone, or listen Radio 1 on FM, DAB or mobile, or one of any number of other devices. But the delineation is becoming blurred. Is Spotify fulfilling the CD/iTunes need? Or is it eating into broadcast radio? Or (most likely in my view), a bit of both?
Across the industry there are different views about how we ought to react to these new services. I think the Radio Academy needs to have that discussion too. Do we invite the likes of Spotify to become patrons too? Do we pretend these services don’t exist? Or do we compete with one another for listeners as the BBC, Global and Bauer already do? One way or another, it’s always worth having the discussion.

Talk To Your Members More
By now you’re probably getting bored of reading my screed! But I love the fact that as a member, I’ve been asked what I think the Radio Academy should be. I don’t know how many responses that you’ll get to this. I hope it’ll be a lot.
But also consider using questionnaires for the membership in the future – particularly when there’s a more structured response that you’re looking for.
Anyway, I hope at least some of this has been useful.

Adam Bowie

So as I said – no – the Radio Academy wasn’t perfect in my eyes. But neither did I think it was a basket case. There are lots of things I’d have done to improve things.

As I say, I don’t know what the reason for these drastic changes, but I’d be amazed if they weren’t all financial. The organisation is propped up by Patron members – the BBC, Global, Bauer and so on. And I’d be amazed if one or more of those organisations weren’t looking to cut how much they spend on the Academy.

Once you cut back to a certain level, you can’t keep on a staff. That makes Awards and a Festival harder to plan. So they’re going to look for a new model. The swift nature of the end of the “Executive Unit” means that they’re trying to achieve these savings rapidly.

It’s even sadder when you compare the Radio Academy with perhaps its closest equivalent in television, the Royal Television Society (RTS). The RTS is also largely funded by its patrons – the big broadcasters – but the industry is bigger, and from the looks of their Charity Commission returns, they have some significant assets (their building?).

So if it’s the broadcasters who are pulling funding for the Radio Academy, that’s profoundly sad. Because there really isn’t anywhere else to go – in particular for BBC and commercial people to meet and discuss ideas.

One thing is clear: members need a clearer message from the Radio Academy’s Trustees about its future. Friday’s release really wasn’t enough.

Radio Academy Awards 2014 and a Complete History

Last night at the Grosvenor House in Mayfair, the great, good and a lot of other folk, gathered for the radio industry’s big bash. The awards have changed sponsor – or are in the process of doing so. Like the Perrier Awards and Orange Book Awards, they’re going to take a while to shake off 32 years’ sponsorship by Sony. In the biz, the awards are just called “Sonys” after all.

Anyway, looking down the list of winners, it seems like the judges did pretty well this year.

Radio 2 got Station of the Year, and with seemingly the majority of the population now listening to the station, who can argue with that? Tony Blackburn got the Gold award for more than 50 years on the air. Even today, he broadcasts on multiple stations every week! BBC Tees won Station of the Year (under 1m), and BBC Ulster won the same award for 1m+. So a clean BBC sweep across the three awards.

The Special Award went to the LBC team who put together Call Clegg and Ask Boris. They’ve done great work in utilising those slots to the fullest. I’m sure other stations are insanely jealous (indeed I did hear Vanessa Feltz on BBC London last year, berate Boris for not giving that station enough interviews!).

I must confess not to have ever heard Gem 106’s Sam & Amy, but they beat Radcliffe and Maconie, and Graham Norton to Music Radio Personality of the Year. And they got some other nominations too. Ones to watch? Zane Lowe picked up Music Radio Broadcaster of the Year, while Danny Baker collected Speech Radio Personality of the Year. He may be only on the radio once a week now, but he’s still miles ahead of the rest.

Victoria Derbyshire toughed it out with Jane Garvey and Melvyn Bragg to win Speech Radio Broadcaster of the Year, while Best Interview of the Year went to Winifred Robinson’s interview with Ralph Bulger.

The Capital Breakfast with Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon won Breakfast Show of the Year (10m+) beating 5 Live and BBC London, while Iain Lee won the same award (under 10m) for his BBC Three Counties show.

Interestingly, the excellent Frank Skinner Show (from Absolute Radio, my previous employer) won Best Speech Programme of the Year, beating the also very fine Digital Human and Call Clegg. I imagine some will be a little “put out” that Frank is considered a speech programme, but there’s not a great deal of music actually in the show.

Eddie Mair’s reign-supreme continues with PM winning the Best News and Current Affairs Award. The question now is whether he replaces Paxman as part of the Newsnight roster. With one or two shows a week, he might just be able to double up with Radio 4.

I’m delighted that the team at Absolute Radio won the best use of Branded Content (hate that phrase) for the Wickes sponsorship. Really clever integration into the show – aided and abetted by an excellent and understanding client. KISS won the Best Station Imaging Award beating TeamRock and Radio 2.

The guys at One Golden Square will be delighted to win Radio Brand of the Year, ahead of sister brand KISS UK and Global’s Capital. A fine testament to all the work they’ve done. Absolute Radio also won the Best Technical Innovation award for InStream. Congratulations to the great team who built that (And yes, I’m aware InStream also won a Bronze in last year’s Multiplatform Award. No, I don’t know the criteria for either award).

I was delighted that BBC Radio Lincolnshire won the Best Creative Innovation for #Lipdublincoln. The resulting video makes me smile every time I see it. Seriously – go away and watch it now if you’ve not seen it before.

Finally here, I’m going to mention that The Secret World won the Best Comedy award for Radio 4 – one to check out for me. And The Morpeth Carol won the Best Drama award beating Sir Tom Stoppard into second place with Darkside for Radio 2, based on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

I believe that you’ll be able to hear either excerpts or complete programmes for a limited time on the Radio Academy’s website. That’s important because many programmes are regional and even in a world where we have the Radioplayer, once they’re gone, they’re often gone for good.

I do think these awards don’t properly celebrate podcasts. While an individual podcast can be entered into relevant award categories, these are categories that have been defined by radio formats and broadcasting. So in many cases it means shoehorning your podcast in. While a general “podcast” category can mean comparing very diverse types of programmes, when there was a previous podcast award it did put the spotlight on some very different programmes that would have struggled otherwise.

The full list of awards is here on the Radio Academy’s awards website.

On that website, you can see the winners back to 2010. And about a year ago, I published a piece that looked back on the full history of the awards. That’s because I laboriously scanned in a paper printout of every award winner since the awards began in 1983. From the piece last year:

This was not an insignificant undertaking, taking many hours. I used that paper list, some bulk scanning, OCR-ing, and a lot of 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.

Because Google Charts has broken all the embedded information I put up last year, I’m updating all the charts to include the 2014 awards.

And I’m also publishing the full list, as it seems a shame to sit on it. Hopefully a few people will find it useful. I imagine, if somebody has the time, it’d be nice to populate Wikipedia with the winners that’d be very useful.

The only thing I’d ask is that you reference me as an intermediary source, since I did the data collation. And in any case, if there are any mistakes, then it’s my fault!

A Google Doc with the full list of winners and many nominees is here.

What now follows is a revised update to last year’s piece:

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). In 2013 the number of awards fell a little, but has now jumped back.

chart1 (1)

But how do those awards breakdown between the BBC and Commercial Radio?

chart2 (1)

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 have consolidated same named stations, but if they significantly rebranded over the years such as Virgin Radio to Absolute Radio, Piccadilly to Key, or even BBC Radio 5 to BBC Radio 5 Live, there are two sets of numbers).

Radio 4 of course has natural advantage. It’s the biggest budget station in the country, and in some award categories, it’s the majority player (sometimes only player). I strongly believe that the award categories are right and a station shouldn’t be penalised for either its success, its excellence or the fact that others struggle to compete is some areas – or simply choose not to.

Anyway, Radio 4 does seem to be winning slightly fewer awards each year over time.


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 did have the first “Brand of the Year” Award last 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 untimely 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 five 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 which ex-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.

Any errors in the data are mine alone. Please do drop me a note if you find any.

As I said before, at least now some diligent individuals can populate Wikipedia (I can’t be bothered as getting the data this clean has taken me far too long). This data might also be useful for those studying radio and the history of radio. And we can continue to shout from the rooftops about great radio.

[UPDATE: 19 April 2016 – Thanks to Sam Bailey who has converted the sheet linked to above into a Wikipedia page, instantly making all these old winners much more visible and searchable!]