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Q&A: The Ins and Outs of ‘Cool Stuff’

Congratulations to the winners of the 2003 Radio World "Cool Stuff" Award. Look for their photos and product information in this issue.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2003 Radio World “Cool Stuff” Award. Look for their photos and product information in this issue.

The “Cool Stuff” Award is our Emmy, our Tony, our Academy Award. Suppliers vie for this honor each year, and they celebrate in a big way when they win it.

I am asked many questions about the award.

What is it?

The Radio World “Cool Stuff” Award recognizes new and innovative products or technologies from among those on display at the NAB convention each spring that are aimed at, or suitable for, U.S. radio stations.

What does it mean?

The “Cool Stuff” designation means a product was selected by our panel of anonymous engineers and industry experts as notable for its design, features, cost efficiency and performance in serving radio users. It means the product caused them to stop and say, “Oh, cool!” Winning companies may use the award logo in their marketing. Winners receive a trophy after the show.

Who are the judges and how are they picked?

Each year prior to the convention, I invite a small group of industry veterans to take part in the judging by walking the show floor and then meeting to discuss their nominees and vote.

Typically the judges number six to 10. All have significant experience, mostly in radio engineering but also in voice work, radio news and audio production. Some may have written for Radio World, others may not have.

These judges take part as a service to the industry and to RW; they are not paid except for a meal and a private pat on the back.

This year, the judges have more than 200 combined years of hard-core radio experience. They include West Coast, East Coast and Midwest representation, as well as commercial and noncommercial experience, from big markets and small, with substantial SBE certifications at various levels.

Why are the judges anonymous? I bet I know who they are.

They are anonymous to protect them from pressure from suppliers, who compete vigorously for this honor.

If you think you know who they are, you might be right! Then again, you might not. Judges are instructed to visit booths without identifying themselves as such. Radio World brings a large contingent of editors, contributors, freelancers and photographers to the NAB show; only a few are judges, and not all judges wear RW badges.

How are products nominated?

Judges nominate products and argue for their choices. Companies may ask us to make sure judges stop by, although this is not required for consideration.

How many awards are given?

As many as the judges approve, by vote, each year.

Our company makes a new product. Why didn’t it win?

In some cases, judges will find that a new product is not sufficiently differentiated from others in its class. Sometimes its price may not be reasonable, or pricing isn’t determined at all, which makes it impossible to judge its value.

In some instances, judges never even see the product because the exhibitor did not display it (!) or tell us about it.

Do advertisers in Radio World have an advantage?

No. I work hard to keep the process as fair and balanced as possible. That’s one reason our judges are anonymous. I specifically encourage judges to argue for their choices based only on their merits. Over the years, winners have included both advertisers and non-advertisers.

I have studied other award programs, both in and out of our industry, and I feel confident that our judges are fair, thorough and well-informed.

Why have judges given prizes in the past to products that never shipped?

This is rare, but it does happen. In visiting the booths, judges are instructed to ask vendors about availability and to take this into account. Occasionally a supplier may promise a product but not deliver it in a timely way after the show. There’s not much the judges can do about that. But experience shows that a company that makes a habit of this quickly gets a reputation for over-promising – not only among our judges but among the industry at large. It tends to be self-correcting.

What’s new in the program this year?

To recognize innovative concepts not yet available for purchase, and to help address the question above, we’ve added a “Cool Concept” Award. This acknowledges that new ideas, still in the process of being developed, have an important role to play in the product development process. Two technologies were so honored this year.

Congratulations to the winners of the “Cool Stuff” Award, and my personal thanks to the judges who worked in anonymity to make them possible.