Meeting Topic: NPR West Facility Tour
Moderator Name: Eric Johnson
Speaker Name: Leo del Aguila, Marcia Caldwell, Patrick Murray and host, Luke Huapaya
Meeting Location: NPR West, 9909 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232.
On Tuesday, January 29, the Los Angeles Section kicked off 2013 with a tour of NPR West, the Culver City home of National
Public Radio's major satellite facility. NPR had long had an LA-area presence, beginning with the acquisition of California Public
Radio's equipment back in 1978. After a quarter-century of having essentially just an LA bureau, NPR began considering the merits
of a larger, permanent West Coast base. In 2002 they opened NPR West, to serve as their West Coast production center to
provide news coverage of the West as well as redundancy and backup to their Washington, DC headquarters. The AES was
granted a brief history and overview of the facility, followed by a backstage tour of the recording studios, control rooms and machine
As one would expect, the production of today's public radio is an almost entirely digital affair. (Although we did spy a reel-to-reel
machine in the control room!) Reporters capture audio on location using Marantz 620 and 660 field recorders; interviewees and
sources are encouraged to use smartphones with an app that provides for downloading audio back to NPR, even if the cell connection
is lost mid-conversation. Audio is edited using Adobe Audition, although this is being migrated to a customized Multi-Track
Editor being deployed NPR-wide. Interestingly, communications between NPR West and the Washington mothership are still
largely over ISDN lines, although a migration to an IP-based setup is anticipated.
Backup is handled by a 50 TB IBM XIV array. Due to the sheer volume of incoming audio content, not everything is archived:
anything that is actually aired is archived, but related material — reporters' research, clips that were edited out of the final show,
etc. — is kept for two months before being purged.
Fans of NPR particularly enjoyed seeing the studio from which Renee Montagne co-hosts Morning Edition, NPR's flagship news
program. Morning Edition airs live on weekdays from 5 am to 9 am Eastern Time, which means Ms. Montagne is on the air from
NPR West at 2:00 in the morning. Her co-host is Steve Inskeep, broadcasting from NPR's Washington DC offices. The mix of high
tech and low tech to make this work is intriguing — the online database of scripts, video, audio and scheduling data -- known as
MOCO, or More Cowbell — is very slick, but any last second script emergencies are still sorted with the red emergency phone on
the desk (a direct hotline to Steve Inskeep's studio in Washington).
The AES greatly enjoyed our peek behind the curtain of public radio, and would like to thank our hosts, Leo del Aguila, Marcia
Caldwell and Patrick Murray for taking the time to show us around.
Written By: Joe Schwartz