Members of the local radio and TV community gather Friday in Salvatore’s Italian Gardens for the third annual party called the BEMAs.
The BEMAs, which have the credibility of the People’s Choice Awards, make me laugh annually more than a David Letterman monologue for a variety of reasons.
When I first heard the acronym, I thought the awards were going to be given at a local synagogue. For those who have never been in a synagogue, a bema – or bimah – is the platform where readings are done during services.
Of course, the BEMAs have nothing to do with a synagogue.
The acronym stands for the Buffalo Excellence in Media Awards, an event created by the Buffalo Broadcasters Association.
Since there are only about 50 to 60 on-air personnel combined at all three TV stations and Time Warner Cable News and local radio stations are filled mostly with syndicated performers, there hardly seems to be enough candidates for another local awards show. But, hey, everybody loves a reason to get dressed up for a good party, and it is a good way to raise money.
I laughed as loudly as WBEN’s Sandy Beach in 2012 when he was named Radio Personality of the Year at the inaugural BEMAs. This isn’t any reflection on Beach’s considerable talents as a conservative radio talk show host who has stayed on the air as a senior citizen. I thought that Beach deserved the honor - if the year was 1972.
WBEN also was named radio station of the year in 2012. It made me wonder who stuffed the ballot box since the station’s talk show hosts spent most of that year – and just about every year – bashing President Obama.
The first year of the BEMAs pretty much rewarded media all-timers, which was rectified in year two when several Channel 4 newcomers were given awards.
And to hear from people who work inside Channel 4, everyone deserves an award just for working with News Director Joe Schlaerth, who is viewed there as more critical than I am. The 2013 winners included Diana Fairbanks as TV Personality of the Year, Ed Drantch as Backpack Journalist of the Year and Brittni Smallwood as Rising Star.
They all do good work, but Channel 4’s dominance also looked a little like ballot stuffing when you consider the success Channel 2 News has had in its march to become arguably No. 1 in local news today.
So I just couldn’t wait for the laughs expected from the nominations for the third annual BEMAs. I was told by organizers they have corrected one thing I’ve criticized – finalists can no longer nominate themselves for awards.
The nominees for the TV station of the year are Time Warner Cable News, Channel 4 and Channel 7.
Don’t feel sorry for Channel 2, which won the last two years and wasn’t nominated this time. I imagine station officials are doing cartwheels because it means they don’t have to buy a table at the party.
I would think Channel 7 staffers had to be laughing about the station being a finalist when its newscasts are the lowest-rated in town and all of ABC’s No. 1 news programming nationally – “Good Morning, America” and “World News with Diane Sawyer” - is third here.
It’s as absurd that Channel 2 wasn’t nominated as it is that Channel 7 was nominated. Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner said he was told that organizers never got the station’s nomination. Even if that is true, someone running the BEMAs should have alerted Channel 2 to avoid making the competition look more silly than it already has looked.
Channel 4 has the most finalists this year with seven, followed by TWCN with five and Channel 7 with four. Channel 2 has one, the same number as WBBZ.
How laughable is this? A week ago, Channel 2 sportscaster Jonah Javad (with photographer Ben Read) and political reporter Scott Brown won New York State Emmy Awards competing with all the New York City stations. It is pretty funny that the station can win two legitimate statewide awards and only get one BEMA nomination.
Channel 4’s George Richert also won a State Emmy award last Sunday, the only one received by the station dominating the BEMAs.
Brown is the only Channel 2 BEMA nominee, which adds to his reputation – fairly or unfairly – inside his own station as someone who will promote himself for any award.
Brown and Richert are in the same BEMA category – something called the Pinnacle Award. The third nominee is John “JP” Piccollo of 97 Rock. I’m rooting for Piccollo. Brown and Richert already have won awards. The BEMAs really are the local media’s version of youth sports, where everybody walks away with an award just for participating. It would be a shame if Piccollo, who I’m told has considerable talents worthy of recognition, doesn’t get his trophy.
Without further ado, here’s a list of BEMA nominees, followed by the first PEMAs (Pergament Excellence in Media Awards).
Radio Station of the Year: WBFO, WGR, WKSE.
PEMAs: WKBW, which has given Colin Cowherd and other ESPN sports personalities a home to talk about national sports events and provide an alternative to all the WGR talk about the hapless Sabres.
Radio Personality of the Year: DJ Anthony and Janet Snyder of WKSE, Susan Rose of WBEN.
PEMAS: My WKSE years ended 20 years ago when my daughter could drive herself to school. Rose and her morning partner John Zach are two of the few WBEN staffers I can listen to without getting annoyed but I would hardly call her a “personality.” I’d give it to (Ted) Shredd and (Tom) Ragan annually until one of them goes senile.
Television Personality of the Year: Casey Bortnick of Time Warner Cable, Steve Vesey and Jordan Williams of Channel 4.
PEMAs: I haven’t seen much of Bortnick. Vesey is a solid sports reader, but I haven’t discerned any personality. Williams is a solid newsman, but personality isn’t his thing, either. I’ll go with Channel 2’s Adam Benigni, who has finally gotten out of Ed Kilgore’s shadow and has the most personality of any local sportscaster.
Rising Star: Alex Haight of TWCN, Lauren Hall of Channel 4, Ashley Hirtzel of WBFO:
PEMAs: I went on record a few weeks ago saying I’m impressed by Hall.
Best use of Social Media: WKSE’s Jud Heussler of WKSE, WGR’s Jeremy White of WGR and Channel 4’s Bryan Shaw.
PEMAs: Channel 2’s Kevin O’Neill still makes me laugh on Twitter.
Trailblazer of the Year: John Hager of Cumulus Media, Sue O’Neil of Entercom Radio, Jeff Silver of Townsquare Media.
PEMAs: I’d give it to Hager, who, like Beach, is a talented radio survivor.