2011 marks the 29th year of the Sony Radio Academy Awards. It is an awards ceremony, without parallel in the radio world, that continues to recognise the very best of UK radio, nationally, regionally and locally.
879 Gold awards have been presented since 1983 - each one representing the skill, devotion and professionalism of the UK radio industry, and each one judged by some of the thousands of judges who have given their time selflessly in the interests of developing the industry they love.
As you'll see from the timeline below, award winning radio walks hand in hand with world events, social change and domestic trivia, to ensure that it is a part of the fabric of life. For the past three decades, the UK radio industry has been encouraged through every step in its ambition to secure full recognition for a job supremely well done: to win a Sony.
The first person ever to mount the stage and collect their award at the Hilton Hotel in 1983 was a little known Irish music broadcaster by the name of Terry Wogan thus disproving one of the myths that surround these awards, namely that to win guarantees a quick path to obscurity. A trophy styled after the Sony Radio, of no commercial value was handed over by Noel Edmonds and so started an annual tradition that is as much a part of the annual rituals of the UK broadcasting industry as the Proms, the Reith Lectures and the Christmas appeals. The previous year had seen the nation celebrating the Queen's Golden jubilee, the BBC had recently appointed Alasdair Milne as a new Director General and there were just 35 commercial radio stations broadcasting their single, simulcast, services around the land. Sony had developed the first CD and consumer electronics stood at the outset of the digital age. There were categories for Best Actor and Best Actress at that time and Mary Riggans took the Actress Award for a performance produced by a commercial radio station in Glasgow, Radio Clyde. Also celebrating victory in that first year was Richard Park as the Local Radio Personality and Woman's Hour as the Magazine Programme.
Noel Edmonds returned as host in 1984, despite the fact that he was leaving radio to embark on a career as the presenter of the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. He welcomed the good and the great of the radio industry who left their Rubik cubes behind on the desk and made their way to the Hilton to celebrate outstanding contributions from David Jacobs and Jimmy (later to become Lord) Gordon. The Band Aid single topped the charts and the IRA bombed the Tory Party conference in Brighton. The Sony organisers decided to recognise Technical Excellence for the first time and selected BBC Radio 3's A Concert from Seoul, while classical music was alive and well on the commercial airwaves with Piccadilly taking Gold with Mr Halle's Band.
The awards were still a lunchtime affair in 1985, allowing the guests to claim that they returned to their offices for an afternoon's work, but this third year saw a shift in venue to the Grosvenor House Hotel. Ernie Wise made the first mobile phone call to Vodafone and Live Aid touched the nation's conscience and provided the substance for next year's award for the broadcast of a live event which went to Radio 1. Jimmy Young was the personality of the year and David Loyn from IRN took the Reporters Award. BFBS was recognised for their Outstanding Contribution and an interesting experiment from Radio Forth in Edinburgh emerged. They set up a special Festival Radio Station and thus pioneered the idea of both community radio and an RSL, as well as collecting an award.
BBC Radio 1 collected a Gold in 1986 as the recipients of the first ever award to carry the name of the Radio Academy, this for the Most Creative Use of Radio. Chernobyl had exploded and Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. At the same time John Peel was to be the National DJ and LBC's Douglas Cameron the Radio Personality.
Drama played a large part in the earlier years of the awards taking five of the categories and children's programmes were also specifically recognised. 'Pop Music' had its place with Capital's Network Chart Show taking Gold.
In the year that Michael Checkland took over at the BBC, the Kings Cross fire and Michael Fish used television to say there would not be a hurricane (then there was); the Radio Personality of the year was Derek Jameson and The Archers were honoured with the Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution.
1988 saw reporters hurrying to cover the Lockerbie plane crash and the Clapham rail disaster, thus providing the raw material for next year's entry. Capital's Alan 'Fluff' Freeman was the Radio Personality and Thena Heshel received a Special Award in recognition of her outstanding work on "In Touch'. This year marked an anniversary for Sony; twenty years of business in the United Kingdom. To mark this occasion a UK Radio Roll of Honour was published incorporating some 26 names. In September, London listened to the arrival of a new radio station from Capital Radio. Capital Gold was launched by the late Roger Scott, possibly one of the few greats to avoid recognition by the Sony judges.
DJs were being recognised as important at both national level, Bruno Brookes, and local, David Jensen. Significantly the supreme importance of breakfast time broadcasting was to be recognised for the first time with Les Ross of BRMB carrying off the Gold. There were also new awards for Sequence Programming going to Moray Firth Radio and a Local Station of the Year that was won by BRMB. Sky Television was launched to increase the level of competition, the Berlin Wall came down and Tiananmen Square erupted. The Outstanding Contribution Award went to Tony Blackburn and a Special Award was made to John Whitney, then Director General of the IBA, for his services to radio.
Margaret Thatcher left Number Ten and the BBC launched their first new national network for 23 years, Radio 5. The commercial sector was also into expansion with the first new London-wide offering coming from Jazz FM. The documentary category was divided between General, Music & Arts and News & Current Affairs with all three awards being taken by BBC Radio 4. Moray Firth took the Sequence Programming Award for the second year. Radio Foyle was the Local Station of the Year, Brian Keenan was released and Chris Tarrant was the Radio Personality.
The release of Nelson Mandela was always going to be a major news story. In this year, coverage of this event won Gold for the BBC World Service.
The 1991 Breakfast Award went to Network Africa from the BBC World Service; the magazine category saw Woman's Hour claiming the laurels for a second time and the Local Station of the Year was Radio Borders. BBC Light Entertainment captured the Radio Academy Award and Capital's Charlie Gillett was honoured with the Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution.
In 1992, the Gulf War was the opportunity for the Today programme to claim Gold for Breakfast Show: Speech Based, while Radio Aire's Mark Page was doing the same for Breakfast Show: Music Based. The Queen was suffering her 'Annus Horibilis' and Classic FM was launched.
That same year, Feature/Documentary became a single award and this opened the way for a new category for best Phone-In, won by Jeremy Dry from BBC Hereford and Worcester. Jimmy Saville took the Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution and the Radio Academy Award went to Sir Richard Attenborough. National DJ was Simon Mayo for the second year running and the BBC World Service received a Special Award.
This point marked the completion of ten years of Sony Awards recognising true excellence in all aspects of radio programming. The radio industry had by now grown to over 150 stations and the awards ceremony itself was a guaranteed sell out each year.
Into the second decade of the Sonys and the breakfast competition is getting even hotter. Capital Gold's Tony Blackburn takes Gold for Contemporary Music while Classic FM's Nick Bailey celebrates something described as Non-Contemporary Music and Mike Carlton's Morning Report for LBC takes the Speech Category. The changing face of the radio industry is reflected in the first award for an independent production company as Unique takes the prize for Unsung Heroes produced for BBC Radio 1. President Clinton was inaugurated and John Birt took control of the BBC. The definitions for Station of the Year were expanded with Fox FM taking honours for the local station; Clyde 2 as the Metropolitan and Classic FM as National Station of the Year; a clean sweep for the commercial sector. The National Broadcaster of the Year was John Peel.
In 1994 BBC Radio 5 Live was launched, Labour Party Leader John Smith died and the Euro Tunnel was opened. Familiar names took to the podium with Wogan, clearly having heeded the journalist's advice, taking Non-Contemporary Music and Les Ross winning Contemporary. The Outstanding Contribution Award went to Kenny Everett and the National Station of the Year was BBC Radio Scotland. Subsequently the definition for UK Station of the Year was altered, leaving Scotland with a taste of devolved nationhood that could not be repeated. A Radio Academy Award was made to the team behind the development of the BBC RDS system and Sunday Trading was legalised.
The 1995 Radio Academy Award went to Jenny Abramsky for masterminding the launch of 5 Live; Alistair Cooke won the Gold Award and memorably reported how OJ Simpson was declared not guilty of murder. The definition of the Phone-In category was broadened to incorporate all forms of Topical Debate and BBC GMR took the Gold. The first ever UK Radio Station of the Year was BBC Radio 2.
Competitions have always been an important part of many radio schedules and in the year when Clinton and Yeltsin were re-elected and Charles and Diana divorced, they were judged as a separate category with Virgin emerging with Gold. Breakfast was back to two categories with Russ and Jono taking Music and the BBC World Service taking Speech, although BBC Radio 5 Live took honours for News Presentation with their breakfast show, as well as being the UK Station of the Year. The Local Station of the Year was Moray Firth, starting one of the most exceptional Sony performances throughout its history.
The death of Princess Diana was to force many broadcasters to re-examine how they would address moments of national tragedy. However that was to come after an awards ceremony that had been shifted from lunchtime to an evening dinner. This was also to be the last awards presented by Michael Aspel. He was to be succeeded by a couple of double acts: first Kirsty Young and Maureen Lipman, then Kirsty again with Paul Gambaccini. This was to be followed by a positive cavalcade of Cox & Bumphry, Mark & Lard and Gambaccini in a single year before Paul Gambaccini made the event his own in 2001. However, we are moving too far ahead. In 1997 the judges would also recognise the accomplishments of a programme controller for the first time, that award going to Steve Martin of the Pulse. The Broadcaster of the Year was John Inverdale and Jimmy Young received the Gold Award. Moray Firth were into their second year of success and BBC Wales took a Regional Award that might have been National two years earlier. The UK Station of the Year was Classic FM.
In 1998, the joint entry from BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Live, National Regions, Local Radio Stations and the World Service for the Event Category in the coverage of Princess Diana's Funeral must rate as the largest ever combined entry in the history of the awards. It also took Gold; as did the News Coverage of her death by the Today programme, BBC 5 Live and BBC News. The Awards Committee divided the award categories between music and speech based programming throughout the day - Breakfast, Daytime, Drivetime and Evening/Late Night. Music awards went to Mark Radcliffe, John Dunn and Richard Allinson and Speech awards to Tim Hubbard from BBC Radio Cornwall and Five Live for Up All Night. There were also Weekend awards that were divided between Michael Parkinson for Music, and Ed Doolan for Speech. This was the year of the appalling Omagh bombing and scandals hit the White House, but Moray Firth continued their run of success and BBC Radio WM and Five 5 Live provided the other winners as Stations of the Year and an emotional Chris Evans took the Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution to Radio.
One of the issues with which the Awards Committee wrestle is whether a single performance, however brilliant, should be able to straddle across two, three or even more categories. In this year of a total solar eclipse, the Paddington train crash and Manchester United winning the treble, it was to be John Peel who swept the board. He took three Golds for Home Truths, despite losing out to Tim Hubbard from Cornwall who again took the prize for Talk/News Broadcaster.
The Millennium saw the arrival of Greg Dyke to the BBC, Steve Redgrave winning his fifth Olympic Gold and Harold Shipman being jailed for life for serial murder. Chris Smith MP generated a tumultuous welcome before presenting the UK Station of the Year Award to Classic FM and then the Gold Award Awarded to Ralph Bernard in recognition of his work championing digital radio. Moray Firth were toppled from their perch by BBC Radio Foyle, the topical debate now became an Interactive category and a Special Award went to Alan Freeman.
Throughout the period of the Sonys the radio industry had been preparing itself for the digital age. 2000 was the year in which the entries were submitted and judged in a digital format using mini-discs.
The following year the first ever Digital Station Award was made to Oneword Radio. Digital Audio Broadcasting was a reality and a part of the mainstream broadcasting ecology. The technologies may be developing but the award winners still embraced some of the old favourites. Terry Wogan taking the Special Award and Chris Tarrant the Gold. Radio Foyle sought to emulate Moray Firth with a second consecutive win and Jon Gaunt tried to emulate John Peel with wins for Breakfast News Talk, News Broadcaster and News coverage. England had a Swede as the new football team manager, the phrase '9/11' assumed appalling connotations throughout the Western world and BBC Radio 2 took the UK Station of the Year Award.
Wogan was back in the following year with his breakfast show while Big George surprised a number of people outside the BBC Three Counties as the nation's Music Broadcaster of the Year. This was the year that marked the death of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the Bali bombings and the Soham murders. BBC Radio Cumbria were rewarded for their massive efforts in covering the Foot and Mouth epidemic, which was finally beaten. For the first time ever the ceremony was available to an audience beyond the Great Room of the Grosvenor House. A webcast of the whole ceremony linked by Kevin Greening was available and numerous stations throughout the country started to hold their own Awards parties. This extended audience were able to watch John Peel collect the Gold Award and the 2001 Award went to the BBC World Service at a time when the world was in increasing tumult.
Two broadcasters, who were to return to the stage in future years, received awards in 2003: Christian O'Connell for Breakfast Music and Stephen Nolan as Speech Broadcaster. Jonathan Ross took both the Entertainment Award and the 2002 Award, John Humphrys the Gold while the compere, Paul Gambaccini, was surprised to be told that it was he who had won the Music Broadcaster of the Year.
England claiming the 2003 Rugby World Cup provided the moment for which Ian Robertson's commentary was rewarded. Mark Thompson took over at the BBC and terrorist bombs killed hundreds in Madrid. Radio Foyle were back to their winning ways, Christian O'Connell and Stephen Nolan repeated their trip to stage and BBC Radio Five Live won a new category recognising a Promotional Campaign. Johnnie Walker took the Gold Award and the UK Station of the Year was BBC Radio 4. President Bush was re-elected and, at the very end of the year, the Asian Tsunami struck.
The Asian Tsunami in 2004 prompted the commercial radio industry to combine their resources and mount the unprecedented co-operative effort of Radio Aid that proceeded to win the Special Award. Christian O'Connell took two awards and Stephen Nolan one while Danny Baker was declared DJ of the Year. Zane Lowe took the Music Broadcaster's Award and Jeremy Vine marked his arrival at BBC Radio 2 by winning the Speech Broadcaster category. This was the year in which Londoners experienced terrorist bombings at first hand and Radio Foyle joined BBC Radio 2 as serial winners of the Station of the Year Award.
The two Chris's, Moyles and Evans, have both had the chance to put their mark on the BBC's breakfast time audiences and both were rewarded in 2006: Moyles for Entertainment and Evans for Personality. The Community Award has been won by a widely spaced group of stations over the years but there remains a common thread: BBC Local Radio. This year it was to be Hereford and Worcester, but there can be no denying that over the years the Sony judges think that these local radio stations are in touch with their communities. The Special Award went to BBC Radio 3 for the Beethoven Experience, a groundbreaking digital download that had not only brought Beethoven to the masses but had also promoted radio as a progressive, innovative medium, embracing new technology. Two of those who had secured awards at the very first ceremony were back for more this year: Richard Park was the Programmer of the Year and Terry Wogan collected the Gold Award.
The 25th Anniversary year of the Awards was celebrated in style with Paul Gambaccini, this year's Gold Award winner, being joined by Sir Terry Wogan, a multiple Sony Award winner, to host part of the ceremony, starting with the Music Programme Award which he won in 1983. The late great John Peel was posthumously awarded The Broadcasters' Broadcaster Award, a special one-off to mark the anniversary year, voted for by UK broadcasters from a short list of 25 radio icons. The news awards were a reminder of the year's headline events: The Breaking News Award went to BBC London 94.9 for their coverage of the London Tornado, and The News Feature Award was won by Whistledown Productions for Letters from Guantanamo Bay broadcast on Radio 4. Classic FM took UK Station of the Year, with Virgin Radio winning The Competition Award, and whilst the London 2012 Olympics logo received a luke warm reception, Planet Rock got the thumbs up for their Station Imaging by winning gold. Sony's technological advances meant that, for the first time ever, the ceremony was relayed across screens in the Great Room in high definition, and to end the celebrations Sony hosted an After Show Party headlined by their artist, Natasha Bedingfield.
Barak Obama was sworn in as the US President as the UK saw the first signs of recession and began to feel the effects of tightening budgets. Streamlining of the entry process began with entrants able to register their entries on-line, and the industry celebrated two new players, Bauer Radio and Global Radio, who were welcomed to the ceremony. The new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, presented Capital Radio with the Community Award for their Lights Out London campaign, a stunned Chris Moyles celebrated receiving the much sought after Breakfast Show of the Year Award (much to his surprise his mum and dad presented him with his award) and Dermot O'Leary picked up his first Sony Gold for The Music Programme Award. Commercial radio won four of the five Station of the Year Awards and Andi Durrant from the Galaxy Network picked up the Music Broadcaster of the Year Award. Two 40 year anniversaries were linked to the emerging Digital age; Jenny Abramsky CBE, received the Special Award in recognition of 40 years in the industry and for forging co-operation between the BBC and Commercial radio to enable the UK industry to lead the world in Digital and Sony, with 40 years in the UK, launched the Sony DAB 'Rising Star' award, which went to George Lamb.
After 8 years of successfully hosting the Sony Radio Academy Awards, Paul Gambaccini handed the baton to Chris Evans, who picked up two awards for Entertainment and Music Radio Personality of the Year. The entry process was further improved with mp3 audio files being accepted on-line, whilst the industry responded in style when Michael Jackson suddenly died, playing his music across the airwaves. It was not surprising to see strong entries on the Olympic theme, with BBC Radio 5 live picking up Gold for The Sports Award, LBC's Nick Ferrari named as Speech Broadcaster of the Year and David Rodigan, Kiss's reggae King, winning Gold with The Specialist Music Programme Award. There were several first time Sony Gold wins; Vanessa Feltz of BBC London 94.9 for Speech Radio Personality of the Year, Absolute Radio for The Live Event Coverage Award and Electric Radio Brixton for Listener Participation and the Community Award.
As the Ceremony opened in 2010 the country was still holding it's breath to find out who the new Prime Minister would be before confirmation of the first coalition Government since World War Two, and with America promising to pull out of Afghanistan by the summer, BFBS Radio were recognised for their special 60 year contribution to the UK radio industry, and ongoing commitment to our serving men and women both on, and behind, the front lines of international conflict. New opportunities were created in marketing & advertising awards, seeing NME Radio take Gold for Best Branded Content, and Real Radio North East awarded for their Vote Joe campaign. Lisa Snowdon and Johnny Vaughan won Best Entertainment Programme for the Capital 95.8 Breakfast show, whilst Trevor Nelson brought the house down, receiving the 2010 Gold Award, with a musical tribute coming from the balcony of the Great Room by The London Community Gospel Choir. As an official FIFA partner for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Sony was gearing up to deliver a unforgettable high definition viewing experience for worldwide football fans, showcasing their 3D technology televisions as guests arrived.