It may be the longest running on-air plug for an unremarkable suburban town since the old “Laugh-In” program and “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson referred to their broadcast home as “beautiful downtown Burbank.”
Virtually every day, Washington-based NPR tells listeners across the country that news and programs prepared in its California production facility come from “NPR West in Culver City.”
Where? Well, Culver City, a small municipality on the western flank of Los Angeles, hard by Mar Vista and Ladera Heights and home to 39,000 souls. Nice-enough place, but unless you knew it’s where Sony Pictures is headquartered (and where “The Wizard of Oz” was filmed when MGM owned the Sony lot), Culver City is easily overlooked in the vast concrete and asphalt prairies of Southern California.
Until, that is, NPR started saying its name on the radio beginning in 2004 — and thousands of times since then. These include high-profile broadcasts emanating from NPR West, from “Morning Edition” to “All Things Considered.”
The location is entirely accurate: NPR West is housed in a 25,000-square-foot building on Jefferson Boulevard, one of Culver City’s major arteries.
The odd part is that NPR is obligated to say the city’s name.
Under an unusual agreement — and apparently an obscure one, even to NPR folks — the public radio broadcaster agreed with Culver City officials to mention the city’s name each time it broadcasts from NPR West. Program hosts can’t say “Los Angeles” or “Southern California,” for example.
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 agreement has a few loopholes, however. The city granted NPR’s request for “clarifying guidelines” — that is, exceptions — shortly after the planning commission passed the resolution. Among others, NPR was permitted to skip saying the city’s name when a host in Washington is interviewing a guest at the NPR West studio.
As a result, the name is uttered frequently but inconsistently. “Morning Edition” co-host Renee Montagne, who is based at NPR West, said she was unaware of any requirement; her usual practice is to mention she’s in Culver City only when her fellow co-hosts are somewhere other than Washington.
“It’s kind of a mouthful to say,” she said, although she noted, “It would be fun to say ‘beautiful downtown Culver City.’ It really is a sweet little city.”
The Culver City mentions on NPR have piled up over the years, particularly of late, because Kelly McEvers, who was named a host of “All Things Considered” last year, is based in Culver City.
It’s probable that most listeners don’t give the brief mentions a second thought, or even a first one. Except maybe if they live in Culver City.
The name-drops have given the city just a little more “cachet,” said Mayor Jim B. Clarke. “When you are one of 88 independent cities in L.A. County, anytime you can get recognition it is a plus,” he said, “especially when associated with [a media organization] as prestigious as NPR.”