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Awards for Your Community’s Best

Use the music industry model to show appreciation and increase community standing

Usher is the host. Guest stars include Lizzo, Halsey and Justin Bieber. What’s this all about? It’s the 2020 iHeartRadio Music Awards live at the Shrine in Los Angeles with a national network television simulcast on Fox. 

The list of nominees for this seventh annual event is equally star-studded: Ariana Grande, Bad Bunny, Billie Eilish, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Daddy Yankee, Dan + Shay, Drake, Ed Sheeran, El Fantasma, Halsey, J Balvin, Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, Khalid, Kygo, Lil Nas X, Lizzo, Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Post Malone, Selena Gomez, SHAED, Shawn Mendes, Snow, Summer Walker and Taylor Swift. 

Music fans are encouraged to participate by voting for winners in many categories: Best Fan Army, Best Lyrics, Best Cover Song, Best Music Video, Best Remix, the Social Star, Favorite Tour Photographer and Favorite Music Video Choreography. 

Wanna attend? Considering concert prices these days, it’s priced quite reasonably, ranging from $75 to $250. 

Come on … what is this — a commercial for the show? No, but I’d like you to view this as a model for creating awards to bestow as a local radio station. 


Why are awards important? When we show appreciation with awards, the mere fact that we’re doing so positions the medium (you) as a leader, an authority, a vital entity to the community it serves. Radio stations are certainly accustomed to receiving awards, but we don’t put enough focus on giving awards.

The music award approach we are using as a model is reasonable on a local/regional basis and makes sense in markets with an active, supportive new music scene. Perhaps there’s even a local music organization with which you can partner. 

Behold, your award program creation checklist: 
  • A name that simply explains the award. 
  • Credible host(s) to deliver authenticity, celebrity and audience.
  • Media partners, such as a local TV station, newspaper or website. 
  • A broad selection of nominees who will spread the word about their nomination. Create enough categories so you’ll have multiple winners. 
  • Judges who are admired or connected and can activate their circle. 
  • On-air promotion of the award that includes an audience voting element. 
  • External public relations outreach, maybe hiring a local PR firm. 
  • Advertising support — perhaps inexpensively on a highly targeted social media platform.
    A live awards ceremony that people can attend in person, hear on-air, comment on social media, watch streamed on television or via Facebook, YouTube or an app. 
  • A wrap-up of winners on-air that runs for several days after the event. Make certain to capture pictures and video for distribution. 

Perhaps music awards don’t make sense for your format, or you’re in a relatively small market. No worries. Awards are universally appealing, and there are plenty of other ways to achieve this fun and exciting form of connection and entertainment. 

Instead, your station will want to brainstorm other themes that resonate with your local audience.

Striking an emotional chord is important. 

Visual arts such as photography or painting can generate a lot of interest. 

Teaching, coaching and mentoring are hot topics for families. 

Environmental issues loom large on the minds of many young people, so creating a local “Environmental Action Award” will resonate in certain communities. 

Awards take time to establish, so consider a multi-year approach. You’ll know when you’re on to something if your awards catch on outside your typical sphere of influence. 

There was a time when local radio stations embodied these attributes just by existing at an organic level, but this should no longer be taken for granted. Stations must intelligently and actively assert ourselves as a major arbiter of what’s important in the community. The most challenging part is that we also must earn the role by openly recognizing major talent — music or otherwise — in our communities.