Best Talk Radio Station
WSVH FM 91.1 GPB Savannah
Tongues wagged in media circles around town a few months ago, when word began spreading of an epic shakeup at Savannah’s local public radio station, WSVH FM 91.
The controversial move was instigated by higher-ups at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. The resulting staff changeover left none of the previous longtime staff remaining.
The ripples of that are still ongoing. But the point of the makeover, we’re told by GPB, was to standardize and beef up the news content at GPB/NPR affiliates across the state.
Which leads us to this category. When you think of talk radio, you usually think of conservative talk, and that is usually the winner in this Best of Savannah category every year. But this year we chose to highlight a relatively unusual winner, FM 91, and point out that the win in a way reflects the changes going on at the station as we speak.
“We’re tripling the number of full-time reporters, going from one to three. We want to serve this state more actively, doing more local and regional news, ” says new Savannah Bureau Chief Sarah Fowler McCammon.
“We have daily local newscasts now on NPR’s ‘Morning Edition.’ GPB has been looking at the resources we have here and how to focus them on news and community engagement,” she says. “We’ve heard a real enthusiasm about having a more robust presence here in Savannah and on the coast. ”
With stints under her belt at Iowa and Nebraska public radio stations, McCammon is no stranger to NPR’s mystique and deceptively broad appeal that, contrary to stereotype, actually crosses partisan lines.
“If you look at our audience research, roughly a third of listeners identify as conservative, a third as liberal and a third as moderate or nonpartisan,” she explains.
One of FM 91’s new three full-time reporters is Emily Jones, with experience in the New York and Providence, RI, markets. The former everyone knows is a demanding way to learn your trade, and the latter of which is renowned as being, shall we say, fertile ground for news reporting, given the legendary political corruption of Providence.
“It goes back to the fact that public radio feels like a news source you can trust,” says Jones. “People in their early 20s have come of age and become media consumers in a world with a lot of sources that don’t feel balanced or are just presenting facts. So it creates a tendency to gravitate towards public radio and public TV, because we tell you the news and aren’t telling you what to think.”
While McCammon is essentially a Midwesterner, she has relatives in Georgia and isn’t unfamiliar with the area she now calls home with her young family.
“One thing I appreciate about both the South and the Midwest is they are two areas of the country that don’t usually get as much attention from the quote/unquote ‘mainstream media.’ Also, being in a smaller city means you get more of an opportunity to get to know people,” says McCammon.
“I first came here as a tourist, like so many people, and fell in love with it,” she says. “It’s an artistic, vibrant, growing community with a strong sense of culture and the arts, and educational institutions.”
Saying “it’s the kind of place with lots of stories to tell and people who want to hear those stories,” McCammon also says “there are a lot of challenges, like the high poverty rate. As a journalist you’re always looking for important ways to tell important stories. To me this is the perfect place at this time of my life.”
One of the mindsets at the “new” FM 91—loosely based on what GPB considers a successful template at their Macon affiliate—is to focus on what makes Savannah so individualistic. Though the Savannah bureau has at least two news planning conference calls daily with the folks in Atlanta, McCammon and Jones say Atlanta doesn’t tell them what to report or how to report it.
“It’s more like we tell them what we’re working on. We certainly bounce ideas back and forth, with regards to statewide ideas and issues and how we can work together on reporting and sharing resources,” says Jones.
“This is a really special and unique area,” agrees McCammon. “There are issues shared with Georgia as a whole, but there are also different issues. For one thing, geographically we’re on the coast. Savannah’s a very different place than Atlanta. We really see an opportunity here to tell Savannah and coastal Georgia stories. “
So what are the favorite NPR shows of these ladies?
I love ‘This American Life,’ ‘Radio Lab,’ and of course ‘Fresh Air,’” says McCammon. “It’s a longtime standby show that continues to find interesting and surprising things.”
For Jones, “I listen to the news magazines constantly. They have great stories and a great mix of stories. Personally my favorite is probably ‘Fresh Air.’ I always get sucked into it.’” — Jim Morekis
Best Local News Anchor
RIP: Person You'll Miss the Most
The WTOC veteran and two-time Emmy winner lost his battle with cancer just as Best of Savannah voting started this time of year, but anyone who worked with this dedicated journalist knew that him winning Best Anchor this year was anything but a sympathy vote. In his nearly 35 year-career with the area’s highest-rated TV news department, Manhatton covered stories from Afghanistan to Iraq to local crime and government, all with an understated professionalism that set him apart from the hucksterism often evident in small-market newscasts.
In later years he embarked on a second career of sorts as a photographer, blending a newsman’s eye for detail with an artist’s appreciation for natural beauty. His death at age 56 took away a vital part of Savannah’s institutional news memory, and he will be missed. —Jim Morekis
Runner-up, Anchor: Sonny Dixon, WTOC
Runner-up, RIP: Ben Tucker
Best Sports Anchor
WJCL/WTGS’s go to “Big Guy” brings a boisterous but knowledgeable take on local sports, from scores to recruiting to human interest. The Georgia Southern grad also produces together a number of special features throughout the year.
Runner-up: Rick Snow, WTOC
Best Local TV Commerical Best Moment in National Spotlight
Jamie Casino Super Bowl Ad
Yeah. Ya think? Not only this year’s obvious no-brainer winner, but we could make the strong case that it’s the best local commercial ever made in the history of television. No kidding. Part Godfather II, part Taken, part death metal video, this two-minute bit of genius is built around the story of local personal injury attorney Jamie Casino, brother of murder victim Michael Biancosino, who was shot in 2012 along with Emily Pickels in a still-unsolved crime.
It was filmed in and around Savannah and features the unforgettable image of Casino taking a custom-built Hammer of Thor to his brother’s tombstone as Jamie vows to never again represent criminals but instead to seek justice for the wronged. Airing during the Super Bowl the Casino ad was also quite possibly the most interesting thing to happen during that disappointing game. It went on to garner national media attention—not to mention millions of hits on YouTube—for its sheer balls-out bravado. — Jim Morekis
Runner-up: Michael Hostilo, Attorney at Law
WTOC’s veteran weatherman is no mere showman; he brings a scientist’s objective eye to every newscast, and doesn’t shy away from the topic of climate change in his robust social media presence.<
Runner-up: Kris Allred, WSAV
Best Local Newspaper Columnist
The “Man About Town” contributes two columns a week on topics as diverse as macroeconomics, the weather, and indie rock.
Runner-up: Jessica Leigh Lebos, The (Civil) Society Column
Best Local Blog
Connect Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos garners a fourth win for her blog about the observations and tribulations of a Jewish mother in the South at yoyenta.com.
Runner-up: Bill Dawers, Savannah Unplugged
Best Local Website
Hey, we tried really hard to upgrade that thing. It is a pretty cool site.
Best Local Radio Station
WRHQ Q105.3 FM
Still Savannah’s only totally locally-owned and based station, Q105 is the labor of love of Jerry Rogers, a treasure trove of rock ‘n’ roll history and a veteran’s veteran.
Runner-up: WAEV 97.3 KISS FM
Best Local Facebook Page
The Stone Stairs of Death
It started about a year and half ago, in a quasi-drunken conversation poking fun at tourists’ apparent inability—or “fucktardedness” in Stone Stairs lingo—to properly negotiate the steep masonry stairway on Factors Walk down to Chuck’s and Dub’s.
“Me and my buddy were sitting up where I take all the pictures for the page,” says the page’s founder, who prefers to remain “Anonymous.”
“I said this idiot did this and that, and he said yeah, 30 minutes ago another idiot did this. He was the one that made the comment jokingly that we should make a Facebook page about it,” says Anonymous.
“So a month or so later I went ahead and started the page. In my mind I was thinking just me and five or six buddies were gonna get a kick out of it. But it caught on.”
Stone Stairs of Death indeed became a local internet sensation and a living example of civic journalism.
One thing led to another. A steady series of posts, comments, photos, and videos built into a virtual way of life: Stubbornly local, stubbornly boozy, stubbornly seeking the truth.
And stubbornly using NSFW language to describe the pathology involved when perhaps otherwise normally-intelligent tourists lose 50 IQ points, i.e., become total “fucktards,” when visiting Savannah.
“What drives me to keep it going is the interaction with people. There are fans now all across the country, shit, the world, that are following it now,” says Anonymous.
“It’s still a very small page, but there are people all over the place sending me pictures now, and stuff that’s far funnier than anything I put up,” he says. “I get as big a kick out of it as anybody, dude. “
Stone Stairs doesn’t necessarily claim credit or blame. But soon after the page took off, the City of Savannah took it on itself to erect bright yellow warning signs and a somewhat bizarre half-barrier on the staircase, proclaiming “PRIVATE STEPS, USE AT OWN RISK.”
In a glorious example of “idiotardocracy,” it turns out that the actual Stone Stairs boast a murky and fascinating pedigree.
A City official was quoted recently as saying “Half is owned by one property owner, a quarter is owned by another property owner, and another half is owned by the city.”
Anonymous just laughs and shakes his head.
“Did you notice that adds up to 125 percent? Those fucktards can’t even get that right.”
So the City, in a bid to avoid anymore of the viral YouTube videos such as the one from 2013 showing a tourist riding the staircase banister straight down to a rocky faceplant, blocked off only the part it is legally liable for.
Stone Stairs of Death greeted the new Orwellian signage and paraphernalia on the steps with an epic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”
But in a sense, it was just another chapter in the story of the Stone Stairs—which will surely outlive all of us, pointing out the hopeless folly of man in the face of the inexorable pull of gravity. And “douchtardedness.”
So what’s the moral of the story?
“In general, I get easily bored. Which is how the whole thing started to begin with,” laughs Anonymous.
“Obviously I think about things and have interests. I try to keep everything as light as possible and not take anything too seriously. I love this city, dude.” —Jim Morekis
Runner-up: Visit Savannah
Best Instagram Feed Best Twitter Feed
Savannah’s tourism bureau continues to have one of the most active and effective social media presences in the industry, thanks in large part to Social Media Manager Amy Brock.
Runner-up, Instagram: Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Review(@savannahsweettease)
Runner-up, Twitter: Brew/Drink/Run (@brewdrinkrun)
Best Local Radio Personality
Best Morning Radio Show
Maunalee Hashemi, Tim Leary and the Morning Showgram
Though she’s no longer with the “Best Morning Show” winner Morning Showgram on Bob 106.9, Maunalee garnered “Best Personality” honors. Listen to the Showgram 5:30-9 a.m. Mon.-Fri.
Runner-up, Personality: Kotter
Runner-up, Morning Show: Kid Kraddick
Best Local App
The area’s highest-rated news station offers both a news app and a weather app, both free. They even have a Blackberry version for you old-school heads.
Runner-up: Yellow Cab Savannah