Here’s to the Winners

Years ago, I produced a public service campaign for the United Way of McDonough County, Illinois. I used audio clips of people the United Way had helped in the community and people talking about why they support the United Way. The Frank Sinatra song “Winners” was the musical theme the agency had chosen (“Here’s to the heroes / Those who move mountains”). The pieces went together beautifully, and as I listened back to the finished spots it was, as best I can recall at this distant date, an out-of-body experience: “My god, that’s fantastic. Did I do that?” When the spots hit the air, the United Way people liked them and other people at the radio station liked them, so we decided to enter them in the Illinois Broadcasters Association awards contest.

You have to enter a contest like this. Such awards are not given by an omnipotent deity that reaches down from the sky and says, “You have been chosen.” You have to have ego enough to say, “Yeah, this is worth some kind of honor, and I want it.” And it helps if you work for someone who is willing to pay the entry fee, because nobody rides for free.

The banquet in Springfield was an exciting night, because I was sure I was going to win, and in front of industry big shots, too. There would be people from Chicago there. What if one of them heard my stuff and said, “We have to hire this guy”?

I didn’t win. I came in second to what I described at the time as “a melodramatic series of drunk driving PSAs,” at a moment in history when the war on drunk driving was in high gear. I must have received a certificate of merit or something, but I don’t remember; if I did, it stayed at the station and didn’t come home with me. I was disappointed. I honestly felt that my stuff was an order of magnitude better than the PSAs that won.

In 2022, my radio station’s all-day Saturday at the 70s feature was cut back to five hours on Saturday night and given to me to host and produce. At the end of the year, I entered the show in the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association awards contest. WBA radio awards are divided into two divisions, music and news/talk, and three market sizes, small, medium, and large. (Large is Madison and Milwaukee only.) I found out last month that my show was a finalist in the Best Specialty Show category for large market music radio. I am under no illusions that I vanquished a bunch of inferior competitors to make the finals; I don’t know how many entries there were, or even how many finalists. But I had made whatever cut there was, so I went to the banquet last weekend with a few other people from the company who were also up for awards.

In the days leading up to the banquet, I said to myself that I was indifferent to how it might turn out. I would be happy if I won but neither surprised nor disappointed if I didn’t. But when they finally got to my category, I changed my mind. I really wanted to win.

But I didn’t win. I came in second. I was disappointed—for literally five seconds. I swiftly recognized that it’s a great honor regardless, and I’m very pleased with it.

Ego is an inescapable part of a career on the air, in radio or TV. You have to believe that you, personally, are entertaining and interesting and/or worthy of other people’s attention. Young broadcasters tend to have a lot of unearned ego; I certainly did. The older me has tried to tame that ego, but I still have it. After all, I entered my show in the contest. I had the thought, “Yeah, this is worth some kind of honor.” But a lot of people in radio think that way about their work, and about themselves, and it just isn’t true. I have known people who think they’re special but are simply not, and they’re insufferable; I don’t want to be one of them.

Hearing that your work is good from somebody else—like the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, even in the form of a second-place certificate instead of a first-place plaque—is different from telling yourself that your work is good. It says, “You’ve earned the right to a little bit of ego.” Maybe I have. If I become insufferable, let me know.

6 thoughts on “Here’s to the Winners

  1. mikehagerty

    You have not become insufferable. I have no question you deserved first place in both those instances.

    I’ve lost (mostly) and won (once). A few years ago, I embraced the notion that it was okay to be proud of accomplishment—that ego is different and recognizably so, and I now have the Murrow in my home in plain view.

  2. Wesley

    Very well written as always, jb. And coming from someone who’s heard your Saturday night show, I demand a recount. Because whatever you beat you isn’t up to what you’ve been doing, in my humble and unsolicited opinion.

    (By the way, I once won a North Carolina Press Association Award for my writing in a weekly newspaper a long time ago. Can’t remember anything except accepting the award–for whatever finish it was–at a nice ceremony in the state capital of Raleigh.)

  3. Yah Shure

    Congrats on a job well done, Jim!

    For an ego boost: frame a copy of each of CCR’s #2 singles and arrange them with your WBA award in the middle.

    For an ego check: frame a “You have won second prize in a beauty contest. Collect $10” Community Chest card and hang it underneath your WBA award.

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