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The Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition (lovingly nicknamed the "Oscars of Radio") has awarded the most groundbreaking and influential documentary work in the audio storytelling industry, thanks to the generous support of our founding supporter, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Throughout its 20 year history, the TC/RHDF Competition has become a living archive of work that adapts, responds to, and reflects changes in the field and in our world. While the Competition is one of the oldest in the country, Third Coast takes particular pride in recognizing work that questions what has come before, and pushes the medium forward.

Third Coast/RHDF Competition Evolutions

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 & 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 last year's winners – here.

How We Listen & What We Value

Our process

As a staff, we listen to every single entry that comes in through the Competition. We take careful notes to learn about you and your work, compiling a database of entries and entrants. We use this information as an “engine for programming,” which means a few things: we look for patterns and themes that reflect the most urgent topics in narrative audio storytelling, which in turn shapes much of our programming. We seek inspiring and innovative approaches from producers, who we sometimes follow-up with directly about other opportunities, programs and collaborations. And we use this information to start a dialogue with all entrants, who we hope to support over the arc of their careers — both within the Competition & beyond.

We also select a jury of judges, all makers themselves, who listen to every single finalist and select the winners. The Third Coast staff facilitates all conversations with these judges and advocate for all finalist works using the materials provided by entrants.

Listening & evaluation

Listening is not a science, nor does it come with an objective rubric for evaluation. But cultivating deep listening is part of our mission as an organization: so too is the goal of challenging barriers to the audio industry.

We are deeply aware of the gatekeeping implications that come along with a call for entries to a competition. There’s a tension there that maybe we can never fully resolve — but that’s the project we’re embarking on.

Here’s some insight into our goals, as Third Coast staff members, when we take on the great responsibility of listening. (We also offer these values to our selected judges as guidance.) Through evaluating work entered to the Competition, we hope to:

  • Create meaningful snapshot of the world in audio by challenging the past, igniting the future, and disrupting the status quo;
  • Build an engine for our year-round programming and for uplifting BIPOC producers and historically marginalized subjects;
  • Reach a wider, more global audience than ever before, and showcase audio storytelling that truly comes from across the globe.

2021 Values:

  • We prioritize accessibility in our Competition (and all of our programming) in several ways, including restructured entry fees that reflect our Collective Pricing philosophy
  • We believe that the Competition can be an essential catalyst for building worldwide audio community unconfined by borders
  • We seek to recognize and elevate work that challenges the past and ignites the future of storytelling
  • We see the hundreds of entries to the Competition as a historic body of work, that reflects the state of the medium in 2021
  • We hope to reach a wider, more global audience than ever before, and showcase audio storytelling that truly comes from across the globe

If you'd like to support our mission, you can donate to Third Coast here.