How To Win A (Sony) Radio Academy Award

This has been my second year as a judge of the-formerly-known-as-the-Sony Radio Academy Awards. It’s a massive honour to be involved with the judging, if a bit terrifying to know that your opinion could genuinely change a career for the better. I can tell you that the judges take their responsibilities very seriously.

I’ve now judged two very different categories – obviously I can’t tell you which categories they are – but it interested me this year that entries triumphed for very similar reasons – and failed for equally similar reasons.

So if only for my own future reference, I thought I’d jot down what I think makes a good Radio Academy Award entry. You may find some of this stuff obvious, but it’s genuinely surprising the number of entries that made some very obvious mistakes…

Rule 1: Make Your Audio Audible

Surprisingly enough, it really does make a difference to be able to hear what you’re listening to but I would say on each occasion there was audio to listen to that was very poor quality – either badly mixed or just hugely low quality throughout (with drops / silences). Please get someone to listen to your entry before you submit it.  And don’t leave it ’til the last minute to submit – that will cause you all sorts of issues!  Check and double check before you submit.

Rule 2: Question The Award-Winning Potential Of Your Entry

It’s amazing how many people waste money submitting very average entries. You really need to ask yourself, “what is unique about my show?” or “what is ground-breaking about this?” – you’re up against the best of the best, so mediocre will not cut it. Think about that best example of a feature you’ve been doing for years… is it really award winning? Or is it just the best you’ve got? Is there something stronger that doesn’t fit into your show planner so neatly…

Rule 3: Know Your Competition

Think about your competition. Who are they? What are they likely to be submitting? How will your audio counterbalance that? Do you know who won your category last year? Any idea why they won? Helpfully the Radio Academy post all the citation to the Awards Website, so you should have a sense of what made that specific entry stand out last year. And if that’s not clear enough, most radio stations in the UK have live streaming abilities. Try and catch their show – see what you think makes them so magic.

Rule 4: Ensure Your Audio Stands Out

What are you doing with your first 30 seconds? The first 3 minutes? Does it captivate and enthral or is it just 30 seconds of imaging / set up? If yours is a montage entry you’re in luck – you can put your toughest question, your biggest laugh, your biggest moment of the year here. And if yours is a self-contained entry (like a doc or a drama) you’re in another sort of luck as you’ll hopefully have been selling your audio from the start…

Rule 5: Make The Audio Emotive

I know I’ve said this before, but please get someone to listen to your entry before you submit it. Watch their response. Does the entry make them laugh? Or cry? Or thoughtful? If it does none of these things, then there is basically no point submitting it. The judges will have a mountain of entries to listen to, and if your entry is too unemotional it’ll end up as being foliage to someone else’s epic then you will lose out. Make your entry the one that’s worth going through all the chaff.

Rule 6: Use Your Word Limit Effectively

Please don’t just copy and paste your programme description! It’s probably not going to cut it when other people have really thought about what they put here. Instead think about what’s new this year – or what amazing facts and figures can you give about your longevity / popularity? What did the audience / reviewers make of it? Who was involved? Are there any great quotes you can use to embellish this? Try to avoid marketing speak, but after a brief intro line have the confidence to let your audience / reviewers / stats speak for themselves. That can often be the most compelling pitch.

Rule 7: Get Someone To Listen To Your Entry

Is this obvious? Based on the entries I’ve heard in the past two year, I’m not sure. Please do this! And ideally two people – someone who knows the show well, and someone who is not involved with your specific part of the industry at all, who can bring perspective to your entry. Part of the challenge when entering awards is thinking about how it will be perceived by the judges who may be taken from any sector of the industry. With people who may know your show and it’s standing features, you’ll be looking to surprise and delight them, and with those who don’t know your show, you’re basically looking to do the same! But it helps to have that outside perspective.

Rule 8: Start Planning For Next Year NOW

You can really hear an entry that’s been panic cobbled together 48 hours before the deadline. Let me repeat that: YOU CAN REALLY HEAR A COBBLED TOGETHER ENTRY. And there is no excuse. It really doesn’t take a huge budget to make a note of any “audio worth remembering” after your show.

So to summarise…
Really the advice is check and double check your audio, get a second pair of ears across it, and make sure you give your best bits their best chance to shine.  And start compiling next year’s entry now!  Good luck.


Well, I’ve had a fun two weeks!

RadioTalk Social Media Special… hosted by me?!

BBC Bristol Spoken Word Project

Michael Sheen’s 80s (28th Dec 2013)

Did the social media for this one:

Jon & Miranda on BBC Radio 2 (23rd Dec 2013)

Wot I did produce and do the social media for…