Writer Garrison Keillor pauses during an interview outside his St. Paul, Minn., home Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2003.
There are few names in public radio better known than that of the host of "A Prairie Home Companion's," Garrison Keillor. The homespun radio variety show brings music, comedy, lighthearted radio drama and a bit of Midwestern small town values to more than 4 million weekly listeners on more than 600 public radio stations.
The show wasn’t always a hit. The first performance debuted in July of 1974 to an audience of about twelve people who paid $1 to see the show. As A Prairie Home Companion grew in popularity, its format changed some and it moved venues, and Keillor once mothballed the show for two years in 1987. But the two hour weekly program has been produced in its current home, St. Paul, Minnesota’s Fitzgerald Theater, since 1993.
Along the way there have been countless guests, songs, parodies and skits with subject matter ranging from the dark political satire to faux commercials for archaic food products. As he approaches his 70th birthday in August of 2012, Keillor has flirted with retiring more than once, but has stated as recently as December of 2011 that he has reconsidered hanging up his mic and famed red sneakers because he still enjoys hosting his signature program - and for his legion of fans, that’s good news from Lake Wobegon.
On doing a road show:
“The audiences are always, always, always different. But it’s a whole different feel.”
On doing a Friday night show:
“This week we’ll be doing a Friday night show. It’s very rare that we do that. It’ll be broadcast on Saturday but we’ll tape it on Friday. It’s just too cruel to ask Californians to sit outdoors at three o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday.”
On performing at the Hollywood Bowl:
“The sun goes down and the lights are in your eyes...it’s not an overwhelming space at all, people feel up close. And the sound is so terrific there.”
On whether Los Angeles could stand in for Lake Wobegon:
“You need a town in which there are opposing elements. In Lake Wobegon, you have Catholics and Lutherans. In a California town, I don’t know, it might be anglos and non-anglos. It would be interesting.”
On getting his start in radio theater:
“I was writing about the Grand Ole Opry down in Nashville, Tennessee for the New Yorker magazine and it just hit me-- you could do this, I thought. You could recreate this sort of live radio variety show and it had never occurred to me before then. It was a pure accident.”
On social media and Twitter:
“For me the short form is around seven hundred and fifty words. That’s what I consider to be short form. I’m sort of attracted to fifteen hundred to two thousand words or so. The Guy Noir novel that I wrote is around fifty thousand and I like that, it’s something you can work with.”
On the audience craving a nostalgic Lake Wobegon age:
“I don’t think the stories are nostalgic. I don’t see them that way. I think they’re just little pictures and life there is far from ideal. And the people are not represented as being particularly kind or loving. I don’t know how people could be nostalgic about Lake Wobegon.”
Garrison Keillor will be signing copies of "Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny" at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on Saturday July 14 at 1:00 PM.
A Prairie Home Companion will appear in a live performance at The Hollywood Bowl on Friday, July 13th at 8pm. Tickets are available at KPCC.org/events.
What are your favorite Prairie Home Companion memories? How can the show endure without its gentle, baritone-voiced host?
Garrison Keillor, radio personality, humorist, author and host of "A Prairie Home Companion" and "The Writer's Almanac"