These days, radio broadcasters mention Florida State University’s public broadcasting station in the same breath as radio networks based in New York City, the nation’s No. 1 news market.
That’s due to Mark Simpson, the assistant news director for WFSU-FM, who has won a prestigious 2007 National Headliner Award for his production of "Update from Capital Report News Desk" from March 26, 2006. The show, entered in the competition’s "Broadcast Radio Networks and Syndicators: Newcast" category, came in third place behind first place-winner "CBS World News Roundup" and second place-winner "ABC News Radio Information."
"We’ve always thought our listeners to be the best judges of what we do, but it is, nevertheless, an honor to be judged so highly in this national awards competition," said Patrick Keating, general manager of WFSU.
"This recognition is further confirmation that we have one of the best public radio stations in the country," said Franklin D. Murphy, FSU assistant vice president for University Relations and director of University Communications. "We’ve long known that our exceptional staff is keeping company with the best in the business."
Founded in 1934 by the Press Club of Atlantic City, N.J., the National Headliner Awards program is one of the oldest and largest annual contests recognizing journalistic merit in the communications industry.
"When I found out about it, I was really surprised," said Simpson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from FSU and his master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Emerson College in Boston. "I thought, ‘Well that’s OK.’ Then I started noticing who the other winners were. There were a few winning entries from ("NBC Nightly News" anchor) Brian Williams and (CNN chief medical correspondent) Sanjay Gupta. Suddenly I thought, ‘Wow.’"
WFSU radio provides Tallahassee, Panama City and the surrounding communities with daily, up-to-date news and information on both 88.9 FM and 89.1 FM. Programs include National Public Radio news favorites, as well as WFSU’s own locally produced radio news, information and programming, such as "Capitol Report," a weekday program on governmental and legislative issues.
Sharing a national spotlight with corporate news giants is quite a feat for Simpson, 28, who has been at the job for only two-and-a-half years.
A typical day during Florida’s legislative session requires him to hit the ground running at 8 a.m. planning assignments for the WFSU-FM newsroom staff, deciding which stories he will cover, and perhaps even anchoring the news.
"I’m also always looking at producing our weekly talk show, ‘Perspectives,’ and I’m also responsible for managing what is going to go to our 13 affiliate stations over the statewide feed. We all rely on each other in getting the product to those stations. The whole team has really been honored because it is definitely a team effort."
Simpson said "Capital Report" had been in need of some pizzazz.
"We wanted to change it from a slower-paced show with a few long pieces to a faster pace with shorter, wittier pieces, and we wanted to check in with the news desk in the middle of the show," he said. "With the ‘Capital Report News Desk,’ what we wanted to do was have this little segment that stylistically mirrored (National Public Radio’s) ‘Marketplace.’"
Last year’s March 26 show focused in part on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). During an interview, Nelson hung up on one of Simpson’s reporters after repeatedly saying he had to go to the Senate floor to vote. The news team turned on C-SPAN, saw the senator walk into the camera frame and vote, and Simpson cleverly incorporated the episode into the script of the show to provide a moment of levity.