Best Country Radio Station: WSM-AM There’s no better measure of the value of country music’s most historic radio station than what happens when a country music veteran dies. Whether it’s a legend like Johnny Cash or less of a household name like Bill Carlisle, WSM helps fans mourn and join with a community of listeners who share the loss. Most importantly, WSM doesn’t just play the legends on the day they die. Not only do they play Cash daily, but a first-generation performer like Carlisle can be heard regularly lighting up the frequency. Deejay Eddie Stubbs hosts the tribute specials, either in prime time or on his great Saturday morning oldies show, and there’s not a more knowledgeable or more engaging radio personality in America. Stubbs doesn’t obsess on making you laughhe’s going straight for your heart. And that’s the organ that makes this station a true American treasure.
Best Rock/Pop Radio Station: WRVU-FM 91.1 At the start of the semester, the signal-to-noise ratio at Vanderbilt’s 91 Rock was running dangerously high, thanks to a badly handled programming shake-up that made valuable community volunteers (some with several years at the station) feel unwanted and insulted. The good news is that many volunteer 91 favorites have been shuffled back into the schedule, either in new time slots (like Doyle Davis’ longtime “D-Funk” show, now 10 p.m. Mondays) or as guests of sympathetic student DJs. Too bad some Nashville commercial station can’t see the value of a show like “D-Funk” or Randy Fox’s excellent hard-country “Hipbilly Jamboree.” Until one does, though, 91 Rock remains the city’s only place where listeners can find jump blues, bluegrass and prewar gospel along with emo, speedcore and acid house.
Best Urban Radio Station: 92 Q/101.1 the Beat/106.7 I can’t be the only person who thinks the best thing for Nashville urban radio is the three-way standoff between The Beat, 92Q and 106.7. The Beat works like the Reader’s Digest of current Hip-Hop and R&B; its focused playlists are designed to tell you what’s new and what’s hot while keeping you from forgetting it through repetition. This is not a bad thing. 106.7 has a little bit more variety in its playlists, adding more contemporary R&B into the mix and spotlighting some different tracks than The Beat. This is a good thing. The Beat has the Thunderstorm with Dolowite and Scooby and Doug Banks; 106.7 has DJ Tazz, dynamite dancehall on Saturdays and Rick Walker. Variations on a theme but a nice contrast for the comprehensive listener. And 92Q’s shift toward old-school R&B is the blessed stabilizer, keeping the vibe mellowersometimes we all need the Quiet Stormand paying tribute to the rich history of R&B and soul music. Throw in Doug Banks and radio goddess Your Girl Yolanda Neely, and you have the third side of Nashville’s pyramid of great urban radio. Let’s hope it lasts.
Best Radio DJ: Gerry House How many mornings have you been driving to work, listening to the radio, and in the car besides yours, the driver is laughing out loud just like you? If the source of your crack-up was Gerry House, Nashville’s most listened to morning drive time deejay and host for nearly two decades of The House Foundation on WSIX, you weren’t doing much car-laughing from Aug. 18 to Sept. 17. On the afternoon of Aug. 15, station execs and fellow Foundation members Mike Bohan, Devon O’Day, Al Voecks and Duncan Stewart were hit with the news that House had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was rushed from his home to the hospital for emergency surgery. For the next month, House’s eight loyal listenersas he modestly claimsand thousands more slammed the station’s House-devoted hot line and Web site for news of his progress and recovery. They were also painfully reminded every weekday morning of House’s enormous contribution to their morning routines. The other members of the Foundation gamely soldiered on in their roles, and the guest host did an adequate job as substitute ringmaster. But for the month he was off the airwaves, the House Foundation was like a dazzling Technicolor movie that had suddenly turned dreary black-and-white. One of House’s greatest gifts is that he makes an incredibly pressure-filled, difficult job (filling up four hours of air time in an engaging, entertaining way) seem as easy as sitting around the kitchen and chatting with friends over a cup of coffee. On Sept. 18, he returned to the air with all the fanfare and hoopla of David Letterman’s return to nighttime television after his heart surgery. To the relief of the eight members of his listening audience, the House was home again.
Best Specialty (Commercial) Radio Show: Lightning 100’s Wayback Machine Lightning 100 may boast the city’s largest on-air music library during its regular programming slots. But station manager and longtime local radio personality Fred Buc ups the ante even higher between 8 a.m. and noon on Saturdays, when he dials the Wayback Machine to a year between 1967 and 1986 for Retro Lightning. Buc, the program’s creator and genial host, has honed the show over the last decade into a four-hour audio déjà vu that not only unearths both well- and dimly remembered old records but also features long versions and obscurities unheard virtually anywhere else on the airwaves (commercial or otherwise). Depending on the year in question, you might hear King Crimson, Joan Armatrading, Echo and The Bunnymen, The Dixie Dregs, a McCartney non-LP B-side, or the 17-minute version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Though billed as a visit “through progressive radio’s past,” the show also touches on the Top 40 of yore but avoids the cheesiest of pop oldies, creating an aerial view of worthy music from any given year. Buc and sometime guest host Mary Brace, who helms many of the 1980s-based installments, also recap news, lifestyle and entertainment stories while spotlighting the music of past and present Nashville-area residents. In keeping with Lightning 100’s slogan, you never know what you’ll hear next.
Best Local News Channel: WTVF-Channel 5 WTVF-Channel 5 has little competition these days. WKRN-Channel 2 is solid, if little else. Meanwhile, the long-beleaguered WSMV-Channel 4 has made enormous strides from a year ago when a media think tank correctly deemed it as one of the worst stations in the country. These days, Channel 4 runs longer, more provocative stories than it has in years, while the addition of Larry Brinton brings a little personality to the newscast. Still, the station presents too many anonymous, blow-dried reporters who couldn’t find their way to Shelby Avenue without a police escort. Which brings us to Channel 5a station that regularly breaks news, employs reporters who have lived in Nashville for more than six months and has a strong cast of affable anchors. Most of all, Steve Irvin has long since left the building, considerably lowering the station’s sum level of obnoxiousness.
Best Local News Anchors: Neil and Heather Orne Channel 2’s morning anchors smile, laugh at each other’s jokes and really seem to get along. Surely, Neil and Heather haven’t been married that long. In any case, the couple help distinguish Channel 2’s otherwise cookie-cutter newscast. Basically, all the morning newscasts are more or less the same: They each feature the usual assortment of late-night arrests, fires and celebrity deathsalong with, of course, traffic and weather. Does it really matter which one beats the other to a story about a Gallatin Road mugging? Really, it’s the anchors who make the difference. While Channel 4 and Channel 5 have some good ones, off the top of our heads we can’t remember their names or even what they look like. Channel 2’s Neil and Heather might be a little too Williamson County for some people’s tastes, but they have an easy-going rapport that’s fun to watch. Sometimes the formula is that simple.
Best Local TV Weatherperson: Nancy Van Camp Given that only the most finicky meteorological fans can discern differences in the content and reliability of weather segments, the choice of which weatherperson is the best must hinge on persona and manner of presentation. As the weekend anchor of Channel 4’s weather desk, addressing a largely relaxed and attentive viewing audience, perhaps Nancy Van Camp is less likely to suffer from overexposure. But in general, she rises well above what seems to be a sea of gossipy neighbors and too-folksy personalities on rival forecast segments. Why? Try to imagine the high school teacher who really made you succeed in a tough subjecta teacher whom the smarter boys were fond of because she knew her stuff and could be calmly reassuring during tense moments, but whom the coolly ambitious girls also liked because she held a quiet authority, had earned the right to wear her perennial, slightly weathered smile, and could pull off solid, red-toned secondary-color ensembles with a modified Annie Lennox ’do as well.
Best Local TV News Reporters: Chris Bundgaard and Phil Williams Two different reporters, both good at what they do. Williams is the guy everyone knows. He breaks news, rattles the state’s top elected leaders, angers police chiefs and, along the way, inspires the occasional lawsuit. Were it not for Phil Williams, former UT Chancellor John Shumaker might still be current UT Chancellor John Shumaker. Meanwhile, Chris Bundgaard toils in relative obscurity at the lowly rated Channel 2. His stories rarely wind up on the front page of The Tennessean. But in a media landscape littered with freshly scrubbed, generic reporters who think that Stone Phillips is the patron saint of their profession, Bundgaard stands out as a reliable veteran who knows his stuff.
Best Local Feature Writer: Leon Alligood The Tennessean’s Leon Alligood has that rare knack for being able to write evocative stories about the tiny, folksy, angry, strange rural towns he covers, without appearing condescending or, for that matter, nostalgic. At times he seems like the only writer at The Tennessean who understands that at least part of his craft includes pushing a story along with colorful phrases, anecdotes and descriptions. His news stories are no less interesting, and the amount of detail he can gracefully include in a single sentence seems limitless.
Best Local Celebrity You Love to Hate: Dennis Ferrier My first lesson in hyperbole came at the hands of Mr. Ferrier, and I haven’t forgotten it. While he is probably a nice enough guy, I’ve never gotten over the time that he made me juggle a soccer ball on live TV (without advance notice, mind you) when I was 16 years old. At the time, I was a pretty skilled juggler with my feet. But his lead-in was that I could juggle as well as Pele and that I possessed the glorious touch of Maradona. (I guess Mia Hamm hadn’t entered popular vernacular at that time.) With my knees shaking and the television audience gripped by suspense at home, I could only muster a shabby three juggles. I looked like a jerk, and we cut to commercial. Ever since, I haven’t been able to stomach his ambulance-chasing antics on WSMV-Channel 4 News. Whether he is exposing the secrets behind home break-ins, complete with a simulated robbery, or on the scene of a misplaced mobile home, I can’t help but cringe and hope that they’ll send Dan Miller in for reinforcement soon. Perhaps Ferrier isn’t to blame for the poor decision-making of Channel 4 producers. But the Pele of reporting he’s not.
Best Local Political Writer: Larry Daughtrey Larry Daughtrey has the institutional memory of an elephant, having covered this city and state since the early ’60s. It probably takes him 15 minutes to dash off his Sunday column, which is a nuanced look at state politics or government, but it’s as bright and incisive as they come. In recent years, the Texas native has struck a more populist tone, compared to what seemed a more yellow-dog Democrat posture years ago. But what always emerges is a certain sense of reasonableness and maturity. He can also flat take your hide off.
Best Scandal of Last Year: The Shumaker Affair When it was first revealed that John Shumaker was making a few too many plane flights at state expensesome to the hometown of his girlfriendfew knew where it would lead. Within weeks, a steady drip-drip-drip of Chinese-torture-style disclosures began to unravel the man. He had bought cases of wine and a $40,000 carpet. He had asked for a new airplane. He had complained when his $4,000 grill didn’t show up on time. Shumaker ultimately had enough of the public skin-flaying and fled his post. Meanwhile, someone needs to do something about the board that allowed all this happen to begin with.
Best Scandal Not Yet Reported: Adam Dread During the Metro Council elections, some of Adam Dread’s rivals grumbled that the at-large member’s stroke and car crash (which nearly killed him) were actually the best things that could have happened to his political career. The events landed him on the front page of The Tennesseanwhen was the last time any other council member did as much?and on the cover of the Scene for the “You Are So Nashville If...” issue. All of this transpired smack in the middle of campaign season, when candidates are struggling to get people to pay attention to who the hell they are. In fact, one local political observer suggested to usin all seriousnessthat Dread staged his stroke and accident to garner the goodwill he needed to win reelection. “Has any reporter talked to Dread’s doctor?” he wondered. “I think he made this all up.” An out-there conspiracy theory for sure. But, then again, Dread is a master at self-promotion.
Best National Media Exposure for Nashville: A&E and Upscale Magazines Talk about a coup. After years of featuring the Boston Pops, A&E turned over its airwaves to the Nashville Symphony and guests for the “This Is Your Country” Fourth of July broadcast. It was a great moment despite initial sound problems, and the fireworks were incredible. How could it have been better? Adding local color with Gary Chapman as host and Joe Elmore presenting vignettes of the city. We also got some good, non-“News of the Weird” press in the print media. While we may not be the first city to come to mind for groundbreaking design, hip shelter mag (professional jargon for a home and interiors magazine) Dwell featured a Nashville house in its September 2003 issue. The house was already a Modernist gem; the renovation by Nashville architect Price Harrison made it modern again. (A Harrison house made the cover of Metropolitan Home in January last year.) It is cool to see the Nashville skyline on Monday Night Football, but we need even more national exposure if we’re going to attract a wide array of tourists and new residents. Does this mean we should pursue the Miss America pageant? Why not? The contest might contain more insight than a presidential debate.
Best nighttime anchor: Ashley Webster This might seem like a curious choice given that Nashville has no dearth of capable anchors. But while Webster’s British accent seem just a little over-the-top at times, the WZTV FOX 17 guy is not, unlike many of his peers, afraid to stray from the anchor desk and report hard news. Like when he broke the story of a high-ranking police official racking up an astronomical cell phone bill. Or when he interviewed people in the walking horse industry, revealing them to be less-than-attentive to the issue of soring. Anchors, if they can report, can be effective at covering hard news. They can leverage their name recognition into getting people who would ordinarily decline comment to talk. And once viewers see anchors out on the street reporting, they’re more likely to call to leak them stories than they would some 20-something reporter who might be gone the next day. Webster and his bosses get this, which is one reason why FOX 17 is not a joke anymore.
Best personality: Larry Woody The fact that Tennessean sports writer Larry Woody is a nice guy is almost secondary. His NASCAR coverage is accessible and impressive, blending tough reporting with a true love of the sport and Southern roots. His columns are beefy, without being cynical or sarcastic. After Vanderbilt upended its athletic department, Woody seemed completely unfazed by Chancellor Gee’s posturing, underscoring the futility and hypocrisy of the move without resorting to petty one-liners to describe it. Then there’s Woody’s thoughtful, straight-talking appearances on Teddy Bart’s Roundtable, which never include the predictable, party-line blather of many of the show’s other guests. But most importantly, Woody is simply a good guy. He helps his inexperienced peers, generously offering his time and introducing them to key sources. And he understands that you can be tough on people without belittling them in print. Many journalists are simply insufferable know-it-alls, which is why a lot of people hate them. If they were more like Woody, we wouldn’t have that problem.
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None slimier than mitch mcconnell. This sick bastard could be the senate majority leader. Disastrous…
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