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ON THE MEDIA

A very special Brand

Former host of the defunct 'Day to Day' show gets a temporary gig on NPR's 'All Things Considered,' but live radio would benefit from Madeleine Brand's West Coast vibe on a permanent basis.

July 06, 2009|JAMES RAINEY

A lot of you joined me back in March in regretting the cancellation of "Day to Day," the popular National Public Radio program that featured the brightest voice in L.A. radio, Madeleine Brand.

I'm happy to report that Brand will return to the airwaves a week from today as a fill-in co-host of NPR's evening news magazine, "All Things Considered."

Here's one vote to take this one more step and make the arrangement permanent -- rather than just the six-week substitution for regular host Michelle Norris, who's taking a leave to write a book.

I may be jumping the gun here, but NPR could use not only Brand's smart, playful and provocative presence, but the change in tone and story focus that will inevitably come by having one "All Things Considered" host broadcasting from "the Coast."

NPR lost a good dose of western charm and lively, outside-the-Beltway storytelling when it shut down Brand and Co. for budget reasons. Next week's return offers some consolation and hope that the network's top-flight news shows will find more ways to venture across the land from their Washington redoubt.

Brand will broadcast from the NPR West studios in Culver City, which largely emptied when the hourlong "Day to Day" went belly up. It will be the first time, an NPR exec told me, that the network's signature program will be hosted for an extended time outside Washington.

"There's value and virtue in having people in different parts of the country," said "All Things" executive producer Chris Turpin, via phone from the home office in Washington. "We are interested to see how this actually changes our show."

So how will Brand bring a "California feel" to the program -- which will be co-hosted by regulars Melissa Block and Robert Siegel?

"I'm thinking of spending the whole six weeks out on the freeway, in traffic," Brand said, laughing at the idea that she would spend precious airtime reinforcing an L.A. stereotype.

Actually, Brand has a number of profiles on California characters already in the works, along with features, including one on Iraqis who have immigrated to El Cajon -- forming one of the largest expatriate communities in the U.S. and melding in interesting ways with natives who are mostly Latino.

"They [NPR execs] are really embracing the idea of having the show sound like it's coming from the West and doing something different," Brand said. "I am excited about that."

Cognizant of how swiftly the media landscape is shifting, though, Brand is also working with a production company on a couple of television projects and producing her own audio podcasts.

One TV program would have Brand traveling the world, examining environmental themes, while another would focus on the radical changes Americans are making to cope with the new economy. Brand, mother of two young children, has also converted a closet in her Silver Lake home into a "studio," where she's producing "Parenting on the Edge" podcasts for her website, soon to be picked up by the Los Angeles Times.

I wouldn't be surprised if Brand's engaging persona turns those into winning programs. But I'm still hoping someone out there is smart enough to find her a permanent home where she has been at her best, in live radio.

--

As Brand prepared for her return to the air, one of the most beloved and venerable voices in L.A. radio, Michael Jackson, got a share of the limelight, again, in recent days.

So the British-born talk show host made the news because of that other Michael Jackson's untimely death. The radio Jackson said (his sadness at the King of Pop's demise a given) he was slightly amused when fans gathered around his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by mistake.

That prompted calls from the Wall Street Journal and others and a chance for radio Jackson to remind folks he's still kicking.

In recent weeks, in fact, Jackson has taped a few commercials for his old employer, KABC-AM 790. He may be a featured guest on ocean cruises the station arranges -- with fans who still miss his kind, witty and urbane presence. (Three words you don't hear associated with radio these days.)

After a resurrection at KGIL-AM 1260, L.A.'s top talker of the 1970s and '80s got bounced off the air last fall because of cost-cutting. The un-gloved one told me last week: "I would like to get one more station. One more time."

--

james.rainey@latimes.com

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