It’s KCRW’s 2021 Radio Race winners!

Written by KCRW Staff

On November 13, hundreds of producers from around the world — from India to Ireland, London to Las Vegas, Sydney to Santa Monica — revved up their recorders to make an audio story overnight for KCRW’s 9th Annual 24-Hour Radio Race. In the end, we received 101 submissions and narrowed those down to ten finalists and three specialty awards. 

Our expert crew of pro radio judges have ranked their favorites and the results are in. The top winners featured here were determined based on creativity, storytelling, technical skill, and incorporation of this year’s theme: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Extra points were awarded for including the 5 p.m. bonus challenge of adding the sound of knocking on a door. 

This year's judges included: 

Scott Newman — Founder and Creative Director, work x work & On-Air Fest  

Julie Shapiro — Executive Producer, Radiotopia/PRX 

Nick Quah — Podcast Critic, Vulture/New York Magazine

Sean Rameswaram — Host of “Today, Explained”/VOX

Sam Sanders — Host of “It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders”/NPR

The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) — “The Kitchen Sisters Present…” / Radiotopia

Congrats to our winners! First place will be broadcast on KCRW’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered on Thursday, Dec. 2; second place will be broadcast on All Things Considered on Wednesday, Dec. 1; third place will air on All Things Considered on Tuesday, Nov. 30; and the winner of this year’s LA Award will air on KCRW’s Greater LA on Tuesday, Nov. 30. 

To hear all of this year’s KCRW Radio Race submissions, check out KCRW’s Soundcloud playlist.

First Place

Team: Jude Brewer
Story: “Buzzy”  
Prize: $1,000 contract for the piece to air on KCRW, plus other incredible sponsor prizes

They say smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, but here producer Jude Brewer makes a moving case for the evocative emotional potency of sound. In lieu of voicemails, letters, or other tangible keepsakes, the sound of a skateboard remains Brewer’s only tie to his late childhood best friend and neighbor, Buzzy. Beyond the piece’s beautifully crafted audio design and editing, Brewer wields sound as a character unto itself, taking the listener inside its ability to trigger — and sustain — memories of halcyon days spent perfecting kickflips after school and revelling in the unwritten possibilities and potential of youth. 

"The immersive sound design draws you right in and propels you through the piece (crucial, given the skating references). The narrative offers as much speculation as story, and he sounds natural and comfortable in sharing this bit of his past. The dynamic he's exploring is relatable, and no doubt leaves listeners (or at least this listener) thinking about old friends who faded away, where they are now, etc. Overall this feels nostalgic but not sentimental, and retains a sense of humor so doesn't come off as too precious. Excellent use of the medium!" — Julie Shapiro, Executive Producer, Radiotopia/PRX & Ear Hustle

"I was really taken by Jude's piece. It really captured a particular vibe or feeling, and while there are some aspects of the sound design that was literal, how that sound design got to its intended headspace was pleasantly off-center, and I truly appreciated that." — Nick Quah, Podcast Critic, Vulture/New York Magazine

"It had mood, meaning, and a soundscape that hooked me from second number one." — Sean Rameswaram, Host of “Today, Explained” 

"BUZZY stood out for it's overall ear-catching production, it's unusual narration and style of delivery, it's fine and original sound design and the heart of the story.  A captivating piece and beautiful rendition of the theme.  Love the way Jude tells the story and the rhythm of his mix." — The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) 

Second Place 

Team: Anonymous Hotdogslices
Story: “Porch Light” 
Prize: $500 contract for the pieces to air on KCRW, plus other incredible sponsor prizes 

A mischievous piano score and seamless sound design enliven this delightful story of a cold war over a hot light between neighbors and their unexpected route back to common ground. 

"The porch light story was just a joy! What a delight. Such a compelling, unique story with a twist AND a great payoff. Wonderfully paced and ultimately, very fulfilling!"Sam Sanders, Host, “It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders”/NPR

"I was [compelled] by the evolving relationship with the neighbor. It's at once a simple negotiation between literal neighbors, at the same time a larger view in perspectives, understanding each other and with a fun ending."Scott Newman, Founder & Creative Director, work x work & On-Air Fest

Third Place 

Team: Chris Attaway 
Story: “Thump Thump Thump” 
Prize: $300 contract for the pieces to air on KCRW, plus other incredible sponsor prizes

In an eerie, real life twist on “the call is coming from inside the house,” producer Chris Attaway employs a nail-biting score and sound design to document one woman’s story of the strange noises coming from the supposedly unoccupied basement of her new apartment, and the neighbor that never was — or was he?  

Newbie Award

Best piece from a team of first-time audio producers

Team: Boen Wang and Susan Peterson 
Story: “Think of me when you see the stars”
Prize: Featured on; One-year KCRW Membership for each team member; Consideration for placement on PRX Remix 

Neighbors are more than the folks you live next to, which newcomers Boen Wang and Susan Peterson remind us with the story of an astronomer’s dreams of locating herself — physically and spiritually — in our galaxy, and how she helps humble new generations and communities to our twinkling neighbors in the sky. 

LA Award

Best radio story with a strong sense of LA

Team: Augusta Chapman 
Story: “Suburban Coyote Golf League” 
Prize: $100 contract to air on KCRW’s Greater LA, chosen by the GLA Team of producers; Featured on; One-year KCRW Membership for each team member; Consideration for placement on PRX Remix 

We in Los Angeles are no strangers to coyotes lurking in our neighborhoods. Sometimes they stay in the shadows, but sometimes they are much more present. Augusta Chapman finds herself head on with one of her more intrusive neighbors.

Social Butterfly Award

Team with the most compelling social engagement throughout the race

Team: D.O. Tell 
Story: "Where I Belong"
Prize: $100 cash; KCRW swag and a one-year KCRW Membership for each team member

Producer and storyteller Diana Opong embarks on her first KCRW Radio Race. In her piece, she reflects on experiencing feeling othered (Seattle freeze) and how she seeks out warmth when she doesn’t feel welcome in spaces where she lives or creates.

Runners Up 

Prize: Featured on; One-year KCRW Membership for each team member; Consideration for placement on PRX Remix

Sonja Cho Swanson
Story: “Sh*t People Throw Off The Roof”

Ten years ago in New York City, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee discovered that her balcony had the seemingly-magical ability to catch detritus thrown off of her building's roof.

Team ARN 
Story: “My White Whale Is A Ferret” 

It takes more than one bitey ferret to redeem an odious Facebook group.

Bone Tired
Story: “Neighbors Pasta and Pie” 

In a suburb of Los Angeles, a pan of lasagna brings a neighborhood together.

Shrikant Joshi
Story: “Want To Be My Neighbor?” 

The one context in which the metaphorical question posed by Mr. Rogers – “Won’t you be my neighbor?” – takes on an absolutely literal meaning…. when you are house-hunting.

Team: Scott Wen and David Gonzalez 
Story: “The Persimmon Tree” 

Some folks really do risk it for the biscuit… but in this case, the biscuit is a high-hanging persimmon, and the risk is the 70 year old woman climbing the tree to grab it.

Snack Club
Story: “The Fruit Store Next Door” 

New York-based producer Dylan Heuer investigates the relationship between two Greek fruit markets in Queens that reside side by side, only to find out that — even in business — you need your neighbors to survive (even if they’re your biggest competitors!).

Thank you to our sponsors: AIRApogee Electronics, Descript and PRX.