Noms flock to Public Radio

NPR nab nominees galore

It was 13 years ago that the typically caustic and yet sentimental Randy Newman sang about the minions who work for public radio in the U.S., in the song “It’s Money That Matters”:

“Of all of the people that I used to know/Most never adjusted to the great big world/I see them lurking in bookstores/Working for the public radio/Carrying their babies around in a sack on their back/Moving careful and slow …”

Perhaps it’s that sad perception of commercial-free radio that explains why Newman is 14 times an Oscar bridesmaid, never yet a bride, although he’s got two chances at the 74th Academy Awards. Because these days, National Public Radio and its various local affiliates — particularly in Los Angeles — have emerged as a busy stop on the Oscar campaign trail.

If once NPR was the place to find newsmagazines and cultural programs devoted to obscure jazz and even more obscure world beat music, it’s now home to numerous public affairs and interview programs. Since there are only so many Enron or terrorist attack conversations that any station can handle, the mutual lure of star power on one hand, a targeted audience of awards voters on the other is too irresistible to ignore.

“The industry is here, and they’re listening to us,” says a rep for KCRW-FM, NPR’s flagship station in the Los Angeles area.

For example:

  • Elvis Mitchell hosts “The Treatment,” a weekly show on KCRW, which has had such Oscar nominees as Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Baz Luhrmann, Wes Anderson and Robert Altman on his show in the last few weeks. No surprise there, since Mitchell also happens to be a film critic for the New York Times.

  • Terry Gross interviewed Pixar (and Oscar-nominated “Monsters, Inc.”) mastermind John Lasseter and “The Lord of the Rings’ ” Peter Jackson recently.

  • Larry Mantle, who hosts the morning talkshow “Air Talk” on KPCC, a smaller but growing public radio station in Los Angeles, featured “Moulin Rouge’s” Baz Luhrmann on March 4, and “In the Bedroom” writer-director Todd Field the previous week.

  • Nic Harcourt hosts what is possibly the most coveted L.A.-area program for campaigners — KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” which, yes, features obscure jazz and world beat, but also invites in guest DJs. Among those who spun discs recently were such directors as Luhrmann — making his second visit to tout “Moulin Rouge” — Cameron Crowe, talking about Paul McCartney’s title song for “Vanilla Sky,” and “A Beautiful Mind” helmer Ron Howard.

    “Overall, ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ has really grown recently, and when that happens, everyone wants to get on the show,” says Ariana Morgenstern,who produces the show. “Because we’re in Hollywood, we get a lot of pitches, and yes, I’m seeing a lot from nominees.”

Soon after “Cast Away” opened in late ’00, Tom Hanks visited the station. He revived the Public Radio staple, desert island discs, where he ran through the music he would take with him were he to be stranded away from civilization (but with a music system).

As for Newman, his last visit to NPR was an appearance on “Fresh Air” in December, 1998, when his career retrsospective box set was released. Apparently all’s forgiven.