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Why NPR Is Constantly Name-Dropping Culver City

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
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Ever wondered why some of your favorite National Public Radio hosts are always reminding you that they are broadcasting from Culver City? Or why the name that gets checked on air isn't Los Angeles or California, both of which are far better known to the country's listeners, but rather little Culver City? Turns out that the on-air plugs on big shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered aren't merely the result of a penchant for geographic specificity, but rather a formal agreement between the city and the public radio broadcaster. According to the Washington Post, NPR is legally obligated to say the city's name each time it broadcasts from NPR West, the station's 25,000-square-foot studio on Jefferson Boulevard. This wasn't the case when the public radio juggernaut first relocated to a former woodworking factory in Culver City in 2002. In fact, at the time Tavis Smiley told the L.A. Times that he was "really looking forward to hearing, 'from NPR in Los Angeles' on other shows." So what happened?

It seems there was a little horse trading between the city and the station, as the Post explains:

The particulars are spelled out in a 2004 resolution by Culver City's planning commission. In exchange for exempting NPR from city ordinances regulating the size and number of satellite-transmission dishes on the roof of its building, NPR agreed to a series of conditions. Among them: "The City of Culver City shall be identified over the airwaves during those periods when programming produced at this site is broadcast."

The Post reports that there are a few loopholes, and NPR is allowed to skip the Culver City mention when a host in Washington is interviewing someone from the NPR West studio.

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The public radio network's West Coast operations have grown drastically over the past decade and a half. When NPR relocated from their Wilshire Boulevard offices to the Culver City compound in 2002, they had just eight Los Angeles staffers. As of 2014, NPR West—the first large-scale production center NPR established outside of Washington—had a staff of 60, according to Los Angeles Magazine.

"The purpose is to give us true national reach," Kevin Klose, NPR's then-president and chief executive, said to the Times in 2002, foretelling the powerful reach of NPR West and the high-profile shows that would eventually be produced there. And the success hasn't gone unnoticed by NPR's municipal host: Culver City Mayor Jim B. Clarke told NPR that the frequent mentions have given the city more "cachet."

"When you are one of 88 independent cities in L.A. County, anytime you can get recognition it is a plus," Clarke told the Post.

Interestingly, expanded coverage and reach wasn't the only objective NPR had in mind with their West Coast expansion; there was also what many have called the "the doomsday scenario"

"NPR West is an important part of our disaster recovery plans and having a permanent Newscast presence in Culver City, will be extremely helpful if we should ever lose our broadcasting capabilities from Washington," NPR Newscast Executive Producer Robert Garcia said in a 2015 staff memo.

Cachet and plans for the apocalypse, now those are some unlikely bedfellows we Angelenos can relate to!

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