FM Station of the Year:
WVAZ, more affectionately known as V103, is a rare radio station. They are consistently toward the top of the ratings and have been able to do so by staying loyal to their listeners' desires. They have found a way to connect to the African-American community without playing any rap or hip-hop. They have done it by playing a more "innocent" style of R&B and Soul music that connects with people of all age groups. V103's music selection also connects quite well with non-African-Americans looking for music that is not too sleepy, yet not too pop or overplayed. In typical Clear Channel fashion, they have their morning drive and afternoon drive taken by syndicated programming. However, both Tom Joyner and especially Doug Banks, have roots here in Chicago and connect well with Chicagoans. Banks will quite often do his afternoon show from here, as he is often in town. Their other DJs during the week, all local, are top notch and long-time veterans, who are "old friends" to the listeners. They are live & local all night long with the sexy Sundance, something that is becoming increasingly rare in radio today. Even their weekend jocks are impressive, including the legendary "Cool Gent" himself, Herb Kent. One of the most amazing factors to V103 is how they have been able to achieve this level of success, in spite of their corporate ownership and shoe-string budget. Outside of the two syndicated shows forced upon the station (which have turned out to be good moves for Chicago), Clear Channel has let V103 be what it has been for so many years. Without a lot of fanfare, without a lot of press, and without a lot of notice, WVAZ has become Chicago's powerhouse radio station. All they do is make their listeners happy, hour after hour. Those listeners are very loyal and their numbers are very large. Congratulations to the entire V103 crew for doing it right!
For much of the same reasons as V103, The Drive is a very close second for FM radio station of the year.
AM Station of the Year:
Like V103, WGN has kept a strong connection with its listeners and with Chicago. WGN is still locally owned, locally run and 100% locally staffed. For more years than most of us have been alive, WGN has been a Chicago institution. Predominately a talk station, WGN goes out of its way to stay politically neutral (with the exception of one show) and goes out of its way to simply entertain. Even their overnight shows are special. When it comes to sports, they also excel. The Chicago Cubs broadcasts are very well done and their sports talks shows are some of the best in town, including those that are on the all-sports stations. In 2008, they found ways to connect with their listeners like never before, through their website & email campaigns. Although ratings have been dropping, due to Arbitron's new PPM system and due to a few other factors, WGN is still the crown jewel of Chicago radio. Major changes are coming to AM 720 in 2009, but it is safe bet that the station will continue to be among the top stations in Chicagoans hearts & minds.
When Chicagoans think about getting their news from the radio, their is only one station they think of first & foremost: Newsradio780.
Radio Personality of the Year:
When most men his age are winding down & relaxing their lives, Dick Biondi ramped his up in 2008. One of the hardest working men in radio showed no signs of slowing down at all. His Annual Toy Drive went from a two-day affair to an eight-day series of events. Instead of "phoning-in" his show, which at his age he could easily do, he continues to do multiple-live remotes each month, always arriving early and staying late to meet his fans. Not only is he one of the most loved radio personalities on the air today, he is easily one of the most loved radio personalities of all time. One of the original wild men of radio is now the gold standard of radio.
Dick Biondi: Always smiling. Hard working. Beloved by all. Willing to work 7 days a week, if needed. Willing to work any and all live remotes. Willing to donate his time to any needy charity. Has fans of all ages. A Chicago radio standard for almost 50 years. An admirer of radio. An admirer of classic rock & roll. A class act. A classic gentleman. The best at what he does. Radio Gold.
Jonathon Brandmeier, Roland Martin, Julian Nieh, Eddie Webb
Unsung Hero Award:
Tony is one of the producers of the Melissa Forman morning show on WLIT. While producers rarely get their due, Tony is very deserving of some notice. The show flows effortlessly and with a sense of humor, thanks largely to his quiet contributions. He is spoken of extremely highly by all who have ever spent any time him. Many may also know Tony as the producer & former co-host of the local TV show, Nude Hippo (whose light-hearted segments can now be found on the NBC5 website). Clearly, his talents are many and worthy of recognition here.
Biggest Chicago Radio News Story of the Year
The proverbial Pink Slip.
The big story this year was a sad one. Actually, it was many sad ones. Way too many good people lost their jobs in Chicago radio in 2008, not because of poor performance, but because of a poorly managed industry, struggling with a poor economy. The corporate accountants and shareholders wanted corners cut. The most corners cut were in staffing. Veteran talent, making too much money, were asked to leave. They were replaced with people willing to work for smaller salaries, voice-tracked shows from other cities, syndicated shows, or in many cases, by nobody at all. Radio has always been an industry where employee turnover & changes were regular events. Quite often the moves were voluntary, sometimes they were based on performance. This year, it was different. There was a depressing ugliness to the massive waves of firings. From Citadel early in the year to CBS late in the year, way too many good people, who could have continued to help the company grow, were kicked out. As sad as this all sounds, all indications is that 2009 will be even worse as even more radio veterans will yanked off the airwaves and away from their fans; more producers & directors will be asked to not show up the next day; more marketing & staffing pros will be told that their services are no longer needed. Until the old school thought processes of the corporate owners are altered to find new ways to make income in this new Internet-run world, the poor soldiers in the field will be the ones paying the immediate price for the corporate failures. Ultimately, it is the listeners who pay the dearest price. They are losing their radio stations, they are losing their radio friends, they are losing their top information source for new music, community happenings & current events, they are losing a great deal - much more than the monetary amounts that the corporations are losing.
Best Radio Website
This website is a welcome island oasis from the sea of advertisements that make up so many radio websites today. This site has put the station listeners' desires first & foremost. Any information that a fan/listener would want to attain is quick able to be found here. The site is simple & elegant. WFMT.com's design has gone largely unchanged for quite some time now. That simplicity is actually a welcome site. It's not exciting, flashy or fancy. There's no animation, no bright colors, no sensational graphics. It is exactly what its fanbase wants it to be. Perhaps best of all, is its lack of annoying ads that detract attention away from the important content. There's nothing wrong with a radio station gaining some much-needed income from a website by using ads, but when the ads are so overpowering that a viewer can't quickly get to the info they desire, the ads won't work. WFMT instead chose to keep their sponsors images at the bottom of the page, did not allow pop-ups and let the eyes of the visitor relax and let the station's information be the main focus. From a fan's perspective, this was the best Chicago radio website of the year.
WBEZ, WGN, WERV, WVON.
Worst Radio Website:
Last year, I gave this award to WILV. This year, I'm going to spread it around. The worst websites are those operated by the biggest radio corporations owning stations in town, namely Clear Channel (the worst offender) & CBS Radio (the new Clear Channel wannabe). Clear Channel has all of their stations using the same basic template. There is no attention paid to the listeners needs and no real information to be gathered from the site. Clicking on a DJ's name will only take you to a page with no real info, or worse, to the cheap CC knockoff of MySpace. Station events are rarely posted, instead running paid advertised events that may or may not have any connection to the listeners of that station. There are plenty of colors, plenty of flash images, but also plenty of ads. And by plenty, I mean PLENTY. I've seen flashing, always-changing billboards in Las Vegas with more tact. The close runner up is the CBS Radio station sites, which just a year or so ago, were among the best. In 2008, they too started becoming just templates, making the CBS sites a big disappointment. To their credit, they do at least offer station information and do at least go out of their way to tailor the sites to the interests of the station listener. The biggest problem is the greatly increased amount of ads placed on each page, especially the home page. The Internet streaming forces the listener to sit through a mandatory 30-60 second commercial before it will even begin to buffer the regular radio stream.
Bonneville's WILV doesn't get a free pass this year either. Neither does the other two Bonneville-owned stations, WDRV or WTMX. All three are based on the same Bonneville template. WILV is still the worst in that it offers very little information about the station of the DJs. Nowhere on the site does it give you a picture of the DJ. It barely tells you their names. It is just an advertising billboard. There is one nice thing I can say about the site: their streaming is top-notch. WDRV, which used to have a simple, but great site, has taken a turn for the worst with this terrible new Bonneville template. WTMX seems to have made the most of the new template and will at least let you get to know the DJs, giving most of them their own webpage. However, don't ask who their weekend line-up is. You won't find the answers on the website anywhere.
With the Internet becoming the future of radio, radio station websites need to be more than just a place to slap up visual ads. They, like radio itself, need to offer exclusive content to their site, top-notch streaming that is 24/7 and that is easy to find & click on (Yeah, I'm talking to you, Emmis stations!), and information that will be of interest to the fans of that station. You need to give them reasons to WANT to return to the website often. Filling the sites with ads and making the ads the top focus of the site only repels the fanbase and does the advertisers no good. More thought needs to go into the websites. The sites mentioned above, especially the Clear Channel sites and WILV, are just thoughtless.
Best (& Worst) Internet Streaming:
WLS-AM, WLS-FM & WILV-FM (tie for best)
One of the most important tools to a radio station as we continue to advance into the future, is their Internet streaming. Three stations have changed things around in 2008 and excelled at it. WLS AM/FM & WILV. When clicking the "Listen Live" link, a new window quickly opens up, loads up, and most importantly, the audio kicks in almost immediately. The sound quality is very good, as well.
Two radio clusters get the big thumbs down: Emmis' WLUP & WKQX for making it too hard to find the "Listen Live" link, for slow loading, and especially for not streaming 24/7. CBS Radio gets the thumbs down because they force the listener to sit through a 60 second commercial before the radio's audio will begin to load up. I'm all for using the Internet streams as a source of new advertising income, but not before the audio kicks in. It can be within the radio streamer window, during the terrestrial commercial breaks, etc., but don't make me wait a long time to hear what I want to hear. The shame is that in 2007, CBS stations were the best streamers.