Radio lecturer Neil Hollins receives the Silver Award for Best Student Station on behalf of Scratch Radio

Radio lecturer Neil Hollins receives the Silver Award for Best Student Station on behalf of Scratch Radio

The winners were announced last night in the 2015 New York Festivals Radio Awards, with Birmingham City University’s Student Radio station ‘Scratch’ being awarded Silver – for ‘Best Student Station’ and graduate Emma Boyle taking Bronze for ‘Best Student Journalist’. We also received finalist status in the ‘Best Student Drama’ – and ‘Best Innovation’ categories.

As a member of this year’s Grand Jury, it was an absolute pleasure to hear slices of the superb radio broadcast around the world in 2014. I judged a wide range of terrific entries from Argentina, India, France, Korea, New Zealand, and the US, Britain etc. (thankfully, transcriptions are provided for foreign language submissions).

It seemed like an appropriate time to post a transcription of a conversation I had earlier in the year with Rose Anderson, Executive Director of the New York Festivals International Radio Programs Awards. Rose kindly agreed to meet me in their offices, a few blocks from Times Sq. on 39th Street, and we discussed, amongst other things, audio production styles and the on-going importance of the New York Radio Festival.

I started by asking Rose about the new Student Radio categories that have been added this year, including: Best Student Journalist, Best Student Documentary and Best Student Drama.

Rose-Anderson-Executive-Director-NYF-Radio-Awards-4-10-14-imgage-resized2-300x300Rose, can you please explain why this year the New York Festivals have decided to add these new award categories specifically for students?

Well, one of the things that we feel very strongly about is recognising all the good work that’s being done all over the world. And, to me one of the things that’s so exciting these days is that students are creating work for themselves and for other people to listen to and that proliferation of product and quality product is something that we really want to recognise. So, we took a look at what was going on and we came up with some names of categories to really reflect the creative trends that were happening today.

One of the things that we feel very strongly about is the importance of having student work judged by the same Grand Jury members as professional created submissions – meaning someone pays them to create their work. So, in this regard student work is being listened to by award winning radio professionals around the world, which is a nice validation, I think, of the art form of radio.

As a radio production teacher – I’m constantly blown away by the work of young student producers. I’m hearing some student productions – that in many ways are on a par with more professional, industry work. How do you think student productions hold up against the professional entries?

That’s a great question. As you know or may not know, I listen to entries as they come in before the grand jury members listen, just to make sure that they play correctly, they’re in the best category they can be. And, also for me to have a sense of organically what every years competition is about, namely what are the types of work being submitted, where is it coming from, what are the trends based on, who’s entering – and one of the things that I find is the high level of technical quality across the board – including student vis-à-vis non-student work.

Could you tell me about your own pathway into the Festivals, and how the awards operate in general?

I have a production background myself. I stopped my degree programme with a Masters in broadcast journalism – and then spent many years in network television, in news, sports, entertainment and documentary production. So, I come with that sense of bias and that point of view. Namely, what you put on the air first has to be ready, second has to be true and third has to be of some value. It really is in my professional DNA.

One of the things that we’ve been doing at New York Festivals since I arrived here five years ago is to create a place and a community where excellence is recognised and acknowledged. Now, how do you acknowledge excellence? How do you recognise excellence? In academia, many times, it’s with honours, with highest honours, with distinction, with a grade point average, with peer review comments. I think in the practitioner world the best way to do that is to have your work listened to and be acknowledged by excellent practitioners in the field.

So, what we do at New York Festivals in the radio awards is, as you know, we have two rounds of judging. We have preliminary judging and then we have a medal round of judging. We invite the medal round winners to be members of the next years grand jury, the thought being if you’ve created excellence – then you can recognise it.

 Another thing that we think is so important is something that I call the 360-degree perspective. That is if you’re a producer or writer or a director you have an aesthetic code, you have a journalistic code, whatever that is – you have an ethos, a set of beliefs that define your creative output. That can be affected by the culture you live in, by the various things you read, the things you listen to, the things you look at. So, here at New York Festivals we not only ask our jury members to be award winners, but we actively recruit them from many different countries. So, what you have is a situation where you’ll have one judge from one country, another judge from another country, another judge from another country, et cetera – all judging one piece of work.

Sometimes they’ll give it exactly the same score, but whatever the score they give to my mind is less important than the fact that you had a group of many different points of view and many different references all coming together to decide on the intrinsic value of a certain piece. And, I think what that does for the entrants, is that it gives them a wider footprint for their own work. Many times if you think about it, certainly in recent times with so much unrest in so many different parts of the world, radio has taken a very strong position in change because the medium allows that to happen. And, in some cases peoples work isn’t really heard because it could be dangerous to them, and so New York Festivals gives an arena that’s larger than a local market or a single country and I think that’s something that’s very important, especially as the world today gets smaller and smaller.

In my opinion, one of the real strengths of the New York Festivals is that it recognises the output of commercial radio, something that a lot of other radio awards don’t seem to do…

Absolutely. We make room for every kind of programming. We have student radio. We have commercial local radio. We have commercial syndicated radio. We have public radio. We also accept entries from production companies that syndicate on a national and international level and this year for the first time we’ve been accepting audio books, since that is another form of radio. Last year for the first time we expanded our horizons to include sound art, so that we go beyond journalism, drama and go into sound itself.

Since you’ve been involved in the Festivals, have you noticed any sort of changes in approach to radio production? Has there been a shift perhaps? Is it becoming more ‘naturalised’ or more ‘journalistic’ or faster paced in terms of editing etc.…?

Well, I think faster paced is probably true, meaning, there is more information packed into the same discreet amount of space – if time were ‘space’. So, what I would say based on what I’ve been listening to, is that more and more entries are becoming more rounded. I think there is always going to be a certain percentage of programming that is at a very innovative level – and I think there’s always going to be some programming that’s going to be more ‘hard cutting’ than something else. But, what I’ve noticed is the level of the sound quality is phenomenal. All I can think of is that technology has enabled some of that, but I think what we’re seeing is a combination of sophistication across the board and people are really listening, so that I think feeds more innovative programming.

Last fall I had the pleasure of being invited to the Bienial International of Radio, held in Mexico City (October, 2014) where I spoke about the importance of awards and the importance of the New York awards. And, one of the things that I said then and I firmly believe is that awards can change your life – because someone might listen to your work and want to know more about you. You might listen to someone else’s work and get an idea. Someone might hire you. You just have no idea. It just opens up you and your work to the world.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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