Most Outstanding News Operation: Alabama Public Radio
Early in the morning, on August 14, 2013, some residents of Birmingham were jolted out of bed by the impact. Others saw the fiery flash. Still more smelled the fumes of jet fuel. A United Parcel Service Airbus A300 cargo jet had crashed just short of the runway at Birmingham/Shuttlesworth International Airport. The Alabama Public Radio covered the story from the initial reports, the perspective of witnesses at the scene, worried homeowners who were left coughing from the fuel spill, to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI Evidence Recovery Team.
2013 also included APR coverage of Alabama’s challenge to the 1964 Voting Rights Act going before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices would later overturn part of the law. APR travelled to Miami as the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team faced the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for the BCS College Football Championship. Along with stories of the game, APR told the story of volunteers from Tuscaloosa and South Bend teaming up to build a community garden in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. Residents there have to walk two miles to the nearest grocery store. APR also covered the national controversial where University of Alabama sororities denied two African American candidates membership, allegedly because of their race. Students on the Tuscaloosa campus responded with an anti-racism rally which drew five hundred protesters, and led to reforms at the school. Alabama Public Radio also focused on the connection between Montgomery and Orville and Wilbur Wright. The famous aviators built the nation’s first civilian pilot school in Alabama, which was commemorated by the dedication of Wright Brothers Park. The event was attended by the Wrights’ great grand niece.
APR also spent a year researching and producing features to remember the fiftieth anniversary of key moments of the civil rights movement, which occurred in 1963. Our listeners heard reports on jailhouse letters written by the man convicted of building the bombs that exploded at the 16th Baptist Church, as well as one of the survivors of the blast. Many TV viewers in the U.S. got their first exposure to racial unrest in Birmingham during what became known as the “children’s march.” The 1963 news footage included young protesters being met with fire hoses and police dogs. APR produced the series and documentary Civil Rights Radio, which tracked down protesters as well as the local Birmingham radio disc jockey who signaled the start of the protest with coded messages in his radio show. 1963 also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the stand in the schoolhouse door, where Governor George Wallace tried to prevent two African American students from registering at the University of Alabama. APR also traveled the state locating key landmarks of the civil rights era now being marketed as tourist attractions.