NPR debuted its newly envisioned afternoon show "Weekend All Things Considered" this weekend from the NPR West studios in Culver City. The difference could be heard right away: more LA content for the listeners of NPR. On Saturday, the first show with Arun Rath as the host, they did stories on the remake of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the rock music history of the Sunset Strip and readings from "Moby Dick" by Patton Oswalt at Los Angeles-area libraries. Regarding the Strip, the producers may not have known it's called a "strip" because it has never been legally part of Los Angeles and thus isn't among the 6,500 miles of LA streets — a stat the show cited — but local geography is tough for even the natives. On today's program, there was a locally centric story about foster care and another Hollywood story, about the writers Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, creators of the old sketch show "Mr. Show."
When I dropped in before Sunday's broadcast deadline to see how things were going, Rath told me the ratio of LA content would probably ease up a bit as the show settled in. But giving NPR a higher West Coast presence on weekends is part of the reason the show and its Washington staff were moved to Culver City. Host Guy Raz moved over to a new show, "The TED Radio Hour," and the opportunity opened to broaden the appeal of Weekend ATC, which has an audience of about two million and skews older. The theme music was even freshened a bit. NPR also just wanted to send a few more people west. “Geographic diversity was very important to us,” Ellen McDonnell, NPR’s executive editor of news programming, said in Saturday's New York Times. “Hurricane Sandy focused our attention on how we would broadcast if there was a situation where we were incapacitated at our Washington facility. Brainstorming began and after a few meetings we agreed that moving the show west was central to our editorial and future business continuity.” I'm quoted in Brian Stelter's NYT story being wary of these periodic westward gazes by media that are East Coast in their DNA, but I express confidence that NPR will figure it out.
Besides giving national airing to more California and Pacific stories, the move west by Weekend ATC is a good thing for the NPR studios on Jefferson Boulevard. NPR West has been too quiet since the demise of "Day to Day" and "News and Notes" in 2009. Many staffers lost their jobs or left — including managing director Cinny Kennard, who went to USC Annenberg — leaving behind so much empty space that desks are rented out to media tenants such as Slate. A wall of fame bears the signatures of hundreds of newsmakers and celebrities from Ozzy Osbourne (right) to Scarlett Johansson who went on the air from NPR West, but the canvasses don't look like they have not been added to for some time. The local staff includes "Morning Edition" co-host Renee Montagne, who does her part of the NPR weekday broadcast from Culver City; national reporters Mandalit Del Barco, Sonari Glinton, Ina Jaffe, Kelly McEvers and Kirk Siegler; plus Karen Grigsby-Bates and Shereen Meraji with Code Switch, a project covering race, culture and ethnicity. But there has not been a regular show on the NPR schedule originating here.
So the arrival of Rath from "Frontline" and "The World" in Boston, and more than a half-dozen Weekend ATC staffers from Washington, has perked up the place. Two more slots remain to be filled, possibly by local talent, the LA Times says. For Rath the return to NPR was a homecoming. He was an intern and later the director of "Talk of the Nation," a senior producer of "On the Media," and has had involvement with other NPR and public radio programs. The weekend team works mostly Wednesday through Sunday preparing the hour-long ATC shows, which first air in the East at 2 p.m. our time. Four feeds in all go out, with updates to news stories as needed. Steve Lickteig is the supervising senior producer, newly moved here from NPR in Washington.
Weekend ATC airs locally at 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday on KPCC.