Radio network is preparing to open L.A. studios in 2002

As part of a move to significantly expand West Coast coverage, National Public Radio officials are nearing a decision on a location for a major production facility in the Los Angeles area that will employ up to 100 people.

In a preview of what's to come, the Washington-based network produced its popular two-hour "Morning Edition" program in Los Angeles last week, the first time the show has originated away from Washington.

"We're planning on moving out here in a big way next year," said "Morning Edition" Executive Producer Ellen McDonnell. "This is going to be more than a bureau, it's going to be an extensive production center where we can do material for broadcasting, for the Internet and for radio."

NPR announced plans earlier this year to open a West Coast center, but the scale of the facility is only now being revealed.

Reports that NPR would definitely locate the center in Culver City are erroneous, officials said, although that city remains in contention along with several other Westside locales. A decision on the location should be made in a matter of months, with the facility scheduled to open sometime in 2002. The digital facility will include space for administrative functions and several studios.

NPR's Los Angeles bureau has about half-dozen employees, including correspondent Renee Montagne, who hosted "Morning Edition" last week when regular host Bob Edwards was on vacation.

The new production center eventually will employ 100 engineers, reporters and other staff members while serving as the base of all West Coast operations, said Gretchen Michael, an NPR spokeswoman.

In the past when Edwards has gone on vacation, Montagne traveled to Washington to cover for him. "You can't capture the texture and flavor of a place like Los Angeles in one week, but we wanted to mix it up and do something different," McDonnell said. "This is a precursor of what we hope to do when we build our broadcast center out here."

"You look at the census numbers and you see that people are moving south and especially west of the Mississippi," Michael said. "This will allow us to better reflect those changes in our coverage."

An enhanced West Coast emphasis could mean more national productions for public stations in the Los Angeles-area.

Ruth Seymour, general manager of KCRW 89.9 FM, whose station airs NPR's "Morning Edition and "All Things Considered," said the effort to connect more closely with West Coast listeners will be a welcome change.

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