History of the Third Coast/RHDF Competition

The Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition has, over the last twenty years, become a living archive of work that adapts, responds to, and reflects changes in the field and in our world. While the Third Coast Competition is one of the longest-running competitions in the United States, we take particular pride in recognizing work through our Competition that complicates or questions what has come before, and pushes the medium forward.

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, we are excited to re-introduce audiences to a brand-new timeline for the Competition Cycle (Fall - Summer, as opposed to the former timeline of Winter - Fall) and to begin 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 have 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.