History of the Third Coast/RHDF Competition

A Note from the Third Coast Team

Hi there,

Thanks for visiting this page to find out more about the history of our competition. Before you dive in, we hope that you might take a second to support our We Need Third Coast Campaign (#WeNeedThirdCoast) for our annual Competition — made by makers, for makers!

We are working to raise $50,000 in order to re-launch Third Coast’s Competition as an independent program by July 2024. To learn more, and make a donation, click here.

Thanks for reading,
The team at Third Coast

The Third Coast Competition has become a living archive of work that adapts, responds to, and reflects changes in the field and in our world. We take particular pride in recognizing work through our Competition that complicates or questions what has come before, and pushes the medium forward.

We’ve revised our timeline: the next Third Coast Call for Entries launches in early 2024.

Stay tuned for more about the upcoming Third Coast Competition, a unique program by audio makers, for audio makers, that is critical to the narrative audio industry.

For now, make sure to also check out the Third Coast/RHDF Competition Showcase, featuring our 2022-23 Winners, Finalists & Judges.

The beginnings

In 2001, the TC/RHDF Competition was created by Third Coast founding directors Johanna Zorn & Julie Shapiro, and honored its first set of award-winning stories. In 2011, Third Coast honored the first award-winner-made-originally-for-podcast.


In 2015, Ira Glass inspired the Skylarking award to recognize the most compelling narrative audio stories that were out for fun. In 2016, former Artistic Director Sarah Geis introduced the "Best Documentary: Foreign Language" award — now the "Best Documentary: Non-English" award - to honor the incredible work being made around the world, in languages other than English. Over the years, the Competition has elevated several works that pushed the boundaries of the medium in blurring documentary and fiction — this was particularly true in 2019, when we honored several winning stories that blurred the lines of fact and fiction. Listen to those stories — and all of the past years' winners – here.


In 2020, we made more changes than ever before. The organization's programming staff - Emily Kennedy, Maya Goldberg-Safir and Isa Vázquez - conceived of two new categories to our Competition: Audio Unbound & Best Documentary: Short. They also expanded eligibility across categories, and doubled down on a commitment to financial accessibility. That year, we also hosted our first-ever virtual Third Coast Awards Ceremony.


In 2021, we implemented a full Collective Pricing model for all categories of the Competition, hosted our second-annual virtual awards celebration, and launched our first-ever Web Showcase where audiences could experience standout works in-depth. Inspired by end of year Best-Of lists, the Web Showcase featured rare critical writing about audio through comments from the judging room. In 2021, we also released the first list of Third Coast Finalists: 40 outstanding entries from across 9 categories.


In 2022 & 2023, Third Coast began innovating dramatically on all the Competition has to offer. These changes are building toward our vision for the future of the program, which we see as a wholly new model for a community-centered competition program that disrupts hierarchies and introduces lateral support for all of our entrants across the world. As always, we at Third Coast see ourselves as listeners, facilitators, and programmers, with a deep responsibility to serve audio communities around the world.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, who supported the Third Coast Competition for over 20 years.

Support Us

If you would like to support the Competition, please reach out to us: competition@thirdcoastfestival.org.