COVER STORY

BEST OF JAX! 2015

NEWS & MEDIA

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LOCAL HERO
Tim Tebow
Finalists: Shad Khan, Wayne Wood
Where were you the day the mighty Tebow dethroned perennial Best of Jax Local Hero Shad Khan? While it may be tempting for detractors to make a snarky joke about a local hero unable to secure a third-string quarterbacking gig for an offense more or less inspired by his performances as a Northeast Florida prep star/Heisman trophy-winning collegiate, those readers who voted for Tim Tebow likely revere him more for his off-field heroics. Through programs like W15Sh — which provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences for children with life-threatening illnesses — and a yearly golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, the Tim Tebow Foundation has made a commitment to the region through charitable giving and other faith-based initiatives. And if the Jags suddenly need a third-string quarterback capable of late-game heroics, after purchasing a nice little $1.4-mil crib in the JTB-adjacent Glen Kernan Golf & Country Club, Tebow is just a short drive away.

BEST LOCAL WEIRDO
Kerry Speckman
Finalists: Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Alvin Brown
Renaissance Man Henry Rollins is quoted as saying, “You need a little bit of insanity to do great things.” With hot pink hair and her signature eyewear, it’s no wonder that Kerry Speckman stands out from the crowd — any crowd. A professional writer for more than 20 years, Speckman is a local blogger and all-around interesting personality. Whether she’s talking about her favorite coffee spots or the sexiest men in Jacksonville, Speckman covers all bases. “With so many weirdos in Northeast Florida to choose from, I’m honored to be named the best,” admits Speckman. “Does that make me sound weird?”

BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO NORTHEAST FLORIDA IN 2015
One Spark
Finalists: Lenny Curry, Riverside Arts Market
Like our winner for Local Hero, the victor in our Best Thing to Happen to Northeast Florida in 2015 category seems to be emerging from a challenging year — that had quite a few bumps and bruises — all the better for it. After reporting record attendance numbers for its April street party with a purpose, One Spark laid off a majority of its fulltime staff, leaving proponents and critics wondering what would become of the local creation that held such promise. Though the 2016 version will be scaled down, no doubt the announcement of plans to continue the festival was encouraging to the hundreds of thousands who enjoyed One Spark this year.

BEST LOCAL TREND
Food Trucks
Finalists: Craft Beer, Art Walk
Essentially, all trends come and go. Some trends, romanticized by a younger generation, return for a new cycle (your day will come, Hammer pants, just be patient). But no set trajectory exists and expiration dates can be fickle. Hence, readers voted food trucks as Northeast Florida’s best local trend. But don’t call it a comeback, because it’s no secret that food trucks — in the words of LL Cool J — have been here for years. Our voters’ locavorian lust has proved insatiable, however, as has the region’s entrepreneurial spirit, as this year the epi-curious among us welcomed a bevy of new mobile eateries, including Eddis & Sons, Nitrogen Creamery, The Salty Dog, and Pounders Burgers, all of which began operating within the last three months.

BEST LOCAL NEIGHBORHOOD
Riverside
Finalists: Avondale, San Marco
Riverside has been the coolest neighborhood in Northeast Florida for so long that it’s now got layers of groove inside its groove. Bordering Downtown Jacksonville, Riverside has livability, walkability, bikes, dogs, food, and bars. It also has just the right the mix of people that makes a place a great place. Homeowners, apartment dwellers, lifelong Riversiders, all living alongside new arrivals. Walking the dog might lead to a conversation with a Jacksonville Symphony violist or a yardman with more Zen than most yoga teachers. Riverside’s homes and apartments, built mostly between 1901 and 1929, make a trek down any street an architectural eye trip. The bikes have baskets. The coffee is fresh-roasted. The beer is brewed right there. The river flows nearby (hence the area’s name). The food is farm-to-table. And if you listen carefully, you might hear the barred owls hoot at sunset.

BEST LOCAL NONPROFIT
Yoga 4 Change
Finalists: Rethreaded, First Coast No More Homeless Pets
With a mission to promote healthy living and foster self-confidence for at-risk and underserved members of the community through yoga, Yoga 4 Change is one badass nonprofit. Founded by Atlantic Beach resident Kathryn Thomas, the organization has taught poses like cobra and camel at locales such as Duval County Jail, Mayport Elementary, PACE Center for Girls and Florida Family Support Services. Yoga 4 Change was even a big winner in this year’s One Spark, winning more than $30,000. Namaste.

BEST LOCAL FACEBOOK PAGE
904 Happy Hour
Finalists: Jax Truckies, Folio Weekly
They’ve got the finger on the pulse, and … THEY’RE EVERYWHERE! 904 Happy Hour wins best Facebook page, but they also win Best Mock Government Spy Campaign. Sometimes we feel they’re taking pictures of us even when we’re lying in bed reading 1984, only to wake up and find it on their social media page. While 904 Happy Hour has proved the victor this year, Folio Weekly watches and learns. We’re like the China of local social media — we may not be No. 1 yet, but we’re getting stronger (plus, we’re communists).

BEST LOCAL INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT
igersjax
Finalists: Only in Duval, 904 Happy Hour
With more than 26,000 followers, igersjax has proved a social media force to be reckoned with — especially if you consider the much-less-captive audiences of larger cities like Miami (igersmiami 11.2K) and Chicago (igerschicago 12.7K). So what makes igersjax an Instagram sensation? With more than 2,000 posts on everything from fishing to local breweries to the Jaguars, it’s a one-stop shop for much of what’s going on in Duval. And their hashtagging game is #onfleek.

BEST LOCAL TWITTER ACCOUNT
@TheSpecktator
Finalists: @CityofJax, @904happyhour
With more than 3,300 followers and nearly 24,000 Tweets, Kerry Speckman’s Twitter account reads like a who’s who of Northeast Florida. She’s consistently posting photos of local personalities like Ken Amaro, Karen Feagins and Shad Khan as well as sharing about everything from the smell of her cat’s poo to the burning question: Are man buns acceptable? Speckman had this to say of the FW readers’ poll win, “To the voters: #thanks. To my competitors: #sorrynotsorry. To everyone else: #thestruggleisreal.”

BEST LOCAL SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICT
Kerry Speckman
Finalists: Kim Tippin, Steve Williams
American tech entrepreneur Amy Jo Martin declared, “Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.” And Kerry Speckman engages. Local writer and all-around resident weirdo, Speckman is the queen of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everything in between. Check out her blog, The Specktator (thespecktator.com) for a nonstop stream-of-consciousness on all kinds of topics and issues, from sports to hot dudes to fashion.

BEST LOCAL SPORTS RADIO PERSONALITY
Dan Hicken
Finalists: Cole Pepper, Jeff Prosser
Another year, another crushing victory for Best Local Sports Radio Personality Dan Hicken. Googans adore the silver-tongued soothsayer for his sharp insights, rollicking sense of fun and unabashed love of sports, sports, sports. (And, lest we forget, his glorious singing voice.) If you don’t know what a ‘googan’ is, you’re not listening to enough of Hicken and partners-in-crime Jeff Prosser and “Balls” Davis from 6-10 a.m. on 1010XL and 92.5 FM’s “The Drill.”

BEST LOCAL NEWS WEBSITE
News4Jax.com (News4Jax/WJXT)
Finalists: firstcoastnews.com (First Coast News), jacksonville.com
Ah, the Internet, the rabbit hole down which American workers finds themselves lost on the daily. In the era of up-to-the-instant reporting, today’s news organizations Best Local News Website court web traffic like Donald Trump courts headlines. News4Jax is for rising above the cluttered home pages, the slow-loading pop-ups, the marketing surveys for access, the “five free articles this month” limits, with a website that is straightforward, thorough and doesn’t make your computer’s fan sing the siren song of browser crashes.

BEST LOCAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER
Ken Amaro (First Coast News)
Finalists: Nikki Kimbleton, Vic Micolucci
In the years that First Coast News’s Ken Amaro has been doing the deep dive into complex stories from around the region, his name has become synonymous with investigative journalism. Everyone knows “I’m telling Ken,” is no idle threat in Northeast Florida. That’s why this year marks Amaro’s 12th spin around the Best of Jax dreidel. There’s no doubt Ken’s on our side. Psst: he’s “on your side,” too.

BEST LOCAL TV ANCHOR
Bruce Hamilton
Finalists: Donna Deegan (JTA Making Moves, Mary Baer (WJXT Channel 4)
The perennial tan, the chipmunkish smile, the inside jokes with Richard Nunn — don’t let these quirks fool you. Bruce Hamilton is a competent, even sharp, news anchor and interviewer. The affable co-anchor is able to make terrible puns, then turn around and skewer a local politico before the groans from his pun die down. He’s a recent heart-attack survivor who also supports various charity causes … including what many consider a lost cause: the Jaguars. Clearly, Folio Weekly readers love Bruce Hamilton because of his genuine positive attitude, not in spite of it, voting him Best Local TV Anchor for the third year in a row.

BEST LOCAL TV WEATHER FORECASTER
Richard Nunn
Finalists: Tim Deegan (First Coast News 12 & 25), Mike Buresh (WJAX Action News)
This Best of Jax category is as changeable as the weather in Northeast Florida; it’s been tossed back and forth ever since George Winterling retired. This year, FW readers settled on Richard Nunn, of THE Local Station fame, as the best local climate fortuneteller. Nunn is never too timid to act the fool on camera, performing little dances and what can only be described as cartoony grins and grimaces. Off camera, he cracks wise as fellow Morning Show pro Bruce Hamilton struggles to keep a straight face while he delivers the news. Nunn also hosts a cooking segment, Culinary Nunnsense, wherein he takes viewers on a gastronomical journey that’s timed for the season, like perfect tailgating fare or what goes into a cool-weather soup. The race for BOJ Weather Forecaster is ongoing, and FW readers are always watching (yeah, we’re looking at you, Tim Deegan!).

BEST LOCAL SPORTSCASTER
Sam Kouvaris
Finalists: Dan Hicken, Brent Martineau
Last year, Dan Hicken took this honor. But, like the NFL’s Patriots or MLB’s Giants, you can’t count Kouvaris out. I once attended a presser in the belly of EverBank Field where high-priced free agents were being introduced for the first time. With NFL Network camera lights shining upon the Jag’s newest acquisition, the door to the room swung open and a relatively tall, relatively-everyman-kinda guy entered the room, walked within sight of the athlete and casually leaned against the wall behind him, never once diverting his eyes from his smartphone. It was Kouvaris. The minute he completed his tweet, in a voice that boomed like the cannon thunder of Raymond James Stadium, he effectively outmuscled the other, more meek reporters in the room. Classic Kouvaris! The man’s been Sports Director at WJXT News4Jax since before this editor was born. He’s been honored with this award a few times (OK, more than 20) and according to his Wikipedia page, the proud U of Maryland Terp gets to vote for NFL Hall of Fame and Heisman Trophy candidates. I wonder which is the biggest honor?

BEST LOCAL TV NEWSCAST
News4Jax/WJXT
Finalists: First Coast News, Action News Jax
Northeast Floridians turn to News4Jax on WJXT to give it to ’em straight. Every day, News4Jax’s crackerjack team braves dangerous neighborhoods, inclement weather, reluctant sources and even — gasp! — politicians, to report from angles that are always fresh and never regurgitated from the newswires. That fearlessness and tenacity makes News4Jax your Best Local TV Newscast.

BEST LOCAL RADIO SHOW
First Coast Connect/WJCT
Finalists: Big Ape Morning Mess, Gator Country Morning Show
WJCT’s First Coast Connect on 89.9 FM has become a staple for Northeast Floridians who want to stay in the know about the news of the day, be it weird, wacky or, most likely, the unfiltered truth. Every weekday morning from 9-10 a.m., First Coast Connect host Melissa Ross has us tuning in and staying engaged. Listen on the regular and you will dazzle the watercooler circuit with your wit.

BEST LOCAL RADIO STATION
WJCT 89.9
Finalists: WAPE, Gator Country
Public radio is calling the audible in Northeast Florida. The mere fact that the local NPR affiliate, WJCT on 89.9 FM, has secured the title of Best Local Radio Station says something very flattering about Jacksonvillians: We’re down with book smarts in a big way. So give yourselves a very dignified and intellectual pat on the back, brainiacs, while the gang at WJCT tickles your prefrontal cortex.

BEST LOCAL TV MORNING SHOW
News4Jax/WJXT
Finalists: Good Morning Jacksonville, Fox 30 Morning News
As sung by Nina Simone, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new[scast] and I’m feeling good!” Again this year, News4Jax has garnered the honor of being named Best of Jax TV Morning Show by our readers. Every day, The Morning Show staff keep it fresh, entertaining and informative with their unique brand of local flavor.

BEST LOCAL COLUMNIST
Ron Littlepage
Finalists: Mark Woods, AG Gancarski
The Florida Times-Union’s Ron Littlepage is both Northeast Florida’s moral compass and gentle scold. He’s for the St. Johns River and mayors who bury the hatchet and bring everyone to the table (Listen up, Mayor Curry!), buying preservation land and conserving water. The conscientious Littlepage writes with an everyman’s common touch backed by a policy wonk’s attention to the details. Finalist and fellow T-U columnist Mark Woods writes with great heart. And our own AG Gancarski kicks local politico ass.

BEST LOCAL VOLUNTEER EFFORT
Habitat for Humanity, HabiJax
Finalists: St. Johns Riverkeeper, Jacksonville Humane Society
Even in the richest country in the modern world, affordable housing lies just beyond the reach of a large portion of the population. Habijax, the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, has played a big role making the dream of home ownership a reality for people who never thought it possible. In 2015, Habijax continued its mission of bringing people together to build homes and communities, recently receiving a 4star rating from Charity Navigator, for the non-profit’s transparency, fiscal responsibility, and good governance.

BEST LOCAL ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST
St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman
Finalists: Cindy Mosling (B.E.A.K.S.), Barbara Tidwell (Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida)
Lisa Rinaman will fight for the mighty river that flows northward through the region. The Riverkeeper organization will sue to stop JaxPort’s expansion because there’s not enough good to offset the harm that deepening the shipping channel might bring. When Rinaman takes on power, she’s about seeking consensus. She’s not the firebrand of her predecessor and now Matanzas Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon, but make no mistake about it — her heart is in her job, to represent the St. Johns River, restoring it to its pinnacle within the unique ecology that is Florida.

BEST LOCAL HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST
Chevara Orrin
Finalists: John Phillips, Jimmy Midyette
Second-generation activist Chevara Orrin has the perfect balance of moxie and willpower that makes her the top choice of our readers for Best Local Human Rights Activist. Poised, passionate and determined, Orrin isn’t afraid to kick ass with We Are Straight Allies; nor is she afraid to kick up her heels with “First Coast Dancing with the Stars.”

BEST LOCAL RADIO PERSONALITY
Melissa Ross (WJCT 89.9)
Finalists: Mark Kaye, Al Letson
Ain’t nobody as fabulous on the radio as WJCT’s Melissa Ross of First Coast Connect, a repeat winner in our Best of Jax readers’ poll. Ross earned and keeps our trust for giving it to us straight and not being afraid to ask tough questions on the air. Smart, funny and compassionate as the story or guest requires, Ross gives airtime to important topics that others are often too timid to tackle.

BEST REASON TO LOVE NORTHEAST FLORIDA
The Beaches
Finalists: The Weather, Art Walk
From Ft. Clinch to Matanzas Bay (as blurb affectionately describes the area that constitutes Northeast Florida) are more than 70 miles of some of the most beautiful beaches on the entire East Coast. Much of it is white sand, some of it’s loaded with coquina and orange-hued. Much of the coastline is accessible to all, some of it is obstructed by private boardwalked McMansions. There are state and national parks and four inlets. In any event, there is not nearly enough space for all the FW readers who voted for the beaches as the Best Reason to Love Northeast Florida to have their own little slices of paradise amid the region’s long stretch of shores. So it’s important to treat well the land upon which the mighty Atlantic crashes. Pick up after yourself, cut down on single-use plastics that could end up in the ocean, and bring your own damn bags when you go grocery shopping. Got it? Good.

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