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‘The World’ to Have Down-Home Focus on Global Issues

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What is sexual harassment like in India? How does welfare work in Scandinavia--and at what price? What’s the accident rate in Germany, where the autobahn has no speed limit?

Find out on “The World"--a new one-hour weekday public radio news series with global scope and down-home focus.

With a limited national New Year’s launch, the series debuts live on KUSC-FM (91.5) from noon to 1 p.m. On Tuesday, the program also begins airing on KCRW-FM (89.9), from 3-4 p.m.

The venture--the first daily radio co-production of U.S. public broadcasters and the BBC World Service--has three partners: Public Radio International in Minneapolis, WGBH Boston and the BBC World Service.

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The program also has three anchors. Based in Boston is Tony Kahn, who narrated, wrote and produced the public radio docudrama series “Blacklisted” about his father’s life, which aired last fall. In London is Eddie Mair, a Scot and one of the most popular newscasters in Britain.

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The third is Mary Ambrose, who formerly worked for Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Kahn will co-host five days a week; Mair co-hosts Monday through Wednesday; Ambrose on Thursday and Friday.

Executive Producer Neil Curry, former editor for BBC Network Africa and African Features, insists the series’ focus is “absolutely American.”

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“The aim of the program is to bring international perspectives to an American public radio news audience,” he said. “My principal concern, the concern of my team is to look at the world, the whole world including the United States . . . to try and find connections.

"[My aim] is to try and achieve as nearly as possible the effect you get when you place a foreigner at the dinner table of an average American family. The people at the table turn to the foreigner and say, ‘How does this work in your country?’ ”

Curry has assembled a team of about 50 English-speaking reporters who live in 50 countries. Three reporters cover South Africa. In Zagreb, Croatia, “World” has one correspondent, Nenad Sebek.

Meanwhile, there is only one full-time correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, a Ghanaian who will be a roving correspondent in the United States. “The whole objective is to bring fresh eyes to things,” said Curry. An upcoming piece from Miami will be “about immigrants and what they have to go through to become Americans.”

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The program is being added to public radio while newspapers and TV networks have been cutting back on foreign bureaus. Vidal Guzman, senior program manager for Public Radio International, asserted that “more international coverage, more global news” is precisely what surveys showed public radio’s audience wanted, with stories “relevant to them.”

Guzman said there will be little overlap with the popular National Public Radio series “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” On those shows “you don’t get global news all the time,” he said.

Coincidentally, NPR recently announced that it is sending four reporters to Bosnia. Curry pointed out that correspondent Sebek, who also worked for the BBC, will “put tentacles out to other journalistic contacts in the region. He’s very well-connected.”

There is no intention to pool public radio resources. “We are separate,” said Curry.

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Each day of “The World” will open with 7 1/2 minutes of newscast followed by another 15 minutes of reaction and analysis. There’ll be a minute quiz segment. About half the program will be feature-type material such as the speed-limit story. And each program, notes Curry, will end with “a musical phenomenon from around the world. In the first few days we’ll be doing a piece on Canto-pop from Hong Kong.”

At present, the series airs on six “limited launch” stations--besides KUSC, KCRW and WGBH, they are in New York, Dallas and Cleveland--which will plan and analyze program development, audience research and promotion. Three other public radio stations in Seattle, Buffalo and Worcester, Mass., are broadcasting it as well.

In April, the program will be available to all public radio stations.

The $7 million start-up and initial broadcast costs have been provided by a group of corporate, foundation and individual funders assembled by Public Radio International.

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Beginning in April, 1997, stations will be charged for carrying the program. According to Guzman, that would still amount to only 15% of the series’ annual budget, estimated at $6.5 million. Fund-raising is ongoing.

Asked why Los Angeles has two public stations airing “World,” Guzman said they both wanted it. “They’re [KUSC and KCRW] two of the leading [public radio] stations in the country.”


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