Prairie Home Companion
A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. The show runs two hours on Saturday afternoon from 6 to 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, as well as 5 to 7 p.m. Central Time, and usually originates from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, although it is frequently taken on the road. It is produced by Prairie Home Productions and distributed by American Public Media, and is most often heard on public radio stations in the United States. The show has a long history, existing in a similar form as far back as 1974, and borrowing the name from a radio program in existence in 1969. The program was named after the Prairie Home Cemetery in Moorhead, Minnesota.
The earliest radio program to have this name bears little resemblance to what is currently heard on Saturday evenings. A Prairie Home Companion was originally a morning show running from 6 to 9 a.m. on Minnesota Public Radio. The show's name came from the Prairie Home Cemetery in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is located next to Concordia College.
After researching the Grand Ole Opry for an article, Keillor became interested in doing a variety show on the radio. On July 6, 1974, the first live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion took place. That show was broadcast from St. Paul in the Janet Wallace Auditorium of Macalester College. Twelve audience members turned out, mostly children. The second episode featured the first performance on the show by Butch Thompson, who became house pianist. Thompson stayed with the program until 1986, and still frequently performs on the show.
In 1978, the show moved into the World Theater in St. Paul. This is the same location that the program uses today. The World was renovated in 1986 and renamed the Fitzgerald Theater in 1994.
The show went off the air in 1987, and Keillor spent some time abroad during the following two years. He returned to radio from New York City in 1989 with The American Radio Company of the Air (renamed Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company in its second season.) In 1992, this show moved to Minnesota and in 1993, was renamed A Prairie Home Companion. While most of the episodes originate from St. Paul, the show often travels to other cities around the U.S. and overseas to do the weekly broadcast.
Each show opens with the Spencer Williams composition "Tishomingo Blues" as the theme song, but with lyrics written especially for A Prairie Home Companion. Before 1987, the show's theme was Keillor's singing of the Hank Snow hit "Hello Love".
Each show features a weekly story-telling monologue from Keillor, claiming to be a report from Keillor's fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve . . . where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average". The opening words of the monologue usually do not change: "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie." The News from Lake Wobegon does not have a set structure per se, but often features recurring characters and places, such as the Chatterbox Cafe, the Sidetrack Tap, Pastor Inqvist of the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church, Father Wilmar of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Catholic Church, the Lake Wobegon Whippets sports teams, various members of the Bunsen and Krebsbach families, and an assortment of nearby "Norwegian bachelor farmers".
The show is "sponsored" by the fictitious product "Powdermilk Biscuits", whose slogan is "Made from whole wheat raised in the rich bottomlands of the Lake Wobegon river valley by Norwegian bachelor farmers; so you know they're not only good for you, but pure . . . mostly. Buy them ready-made in the big blue box with the picture of the biscuit on the cover, or in the brown bag with the dark stains that indicate freshness. Whole wheat that gives shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Heavens they're tasty, and expeditious!" Powdermilk Biscuits has its own theme song, sung by Keillor every week.
Other original "sponsors" have included Bebop-a-reebop Rhubarb Pie and Bebop-a-reebop Frozen Rhubarb Pie Filling ("One little thing can revive a guy, And that is some homemade rhubarb pie; Serve it up, nice and hot; Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought."), Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery (the inspiration of the name of the Pretty Good Privacy cryptographic software), the Sidetrack Tap, Mournful Oatmeal ("Calvinism in a box"), Raw Bits breakfast cereal, Jack's Auto Repair, Jack's Warm Car Service, Midwestern Discount Store, Guy's Shoes ("Guy's steel-toed shoes—so even when you strike out (ping!) you can walk away"), and Bertha's Kitty Boutique. An occasional sponsor is Monback Moving & Storage (a mover is heard directing a moving truck [as a backup alarm can be heard beeping]: "Monback . . . Monback . . . (crunch) That's good.") Recently, the show has also been "sponsored" by Xanax Salad Sprinkles (for those times you need people to relax).
Other recurring bits on the show include fictional commercials, including those for "The Catchup Advisory Board", the American Duct Tape Council, the Professional Organization of English Majors, Earl's Academy of Accents, the American Society of Sound Effects Specialists, and the Cafe Boeuf.
Radio comedy skits featuring Keillor and the ensemble are performed, such as the satirical "Guy Noir, Private Eye", which pokes fun at gumshoe detective films. Guy Noir's popularity is such that the first few notes of the theme, or the first lines of the announcer intro ("A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets...") often draw applause and cheers from the theatre audience. A 2006 Guy Noir skit about Tourette syndrome, titled "Broadway Tourette's", prompted a press release from the TSA, (Tourette Syndrome Association). Also featured every week are the adventures of Dusty and Lefty, "The Lives of the Cowboys." In these skits, Dusty (played by Tim Russell) is a rough and tumble stereotypical cowboy, while Lefty (played by Keillor) is his sensitive counterpart. For a short period in the fall of 2001, a series of spoofs of NPR's Linda Wertheimer speaking with correspondent John Knotwright in Afghanistan, being plagued by problems with satellite delay, aired.
Also, greetings from members of the audience (which are frequently humorous) to friends and family at home are read each week just after intermission.
Music is a strong feature of the program; it is a significant outlet for American folk music of many genres. While much of the show is directed toward radio comedy, a portion of the show is usually devoted to some more sentimental and sometimes dark stories put together by Keillor and others.
In addition to Garrison Keillor, several other performers frequently appear on A Prairie Home Companion:
Featured Members of Guy's All-Star Shoe Band:
- Pat Donohue - guitar, vocal
- Andy Stein - violin, saxophone, vocals
- Richard Dworsky - piano, vocal
- Arnie Kinsella - drums
- Gary Raynor - bass
Sound effects artists:
During its season as The American Radio Company of the Air, Bob Elliott was a regular cast member.
The show is distributed by Minnesota Public Radio's distribution arm, American Public Media, to more than 500 public radio stations in the United States as well as other outlets. Approximately 3.9 million U.S. listeners tune in each week. The program is also carried around the world by the American Armed Forces Radio Network as well as America One.
In Europe, the show is currently broadcast by WRN Europe on Sundays at 1100 UTC.
An alternative edition of the show is broadcast in the UK by BBC 7 and in Ireland by RTÉ under the name Garrison Keillor's Radio Show. This version of the show runs for approximately one hour and features the News from Lake Wobegon and selected musical acts and comedy sketches. Unlike A Prairie Home Companion there are no station breaks. There are also no underwriting credits, as BBC and RTÉ do not use underwriting as a means of funding broadcasts. However, some of the programme's fictional sponsors are credited at the start of the show.
Released on June 9, 2006, a film about the radio show written by and starring Keillor began filming on June 9, 2005. It also stars Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Lily Tomlin, Maya Rudolph, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones, and L.Q. Jones. Robert Altman directed the film, which is a fictional representation of behind-the-scenes activities on a long-running radio show that has unexpectedly been cancelled.
- At the beginning of A Prairie Home Companion's June 5, 2004 show (which was broadcast from New Hampshire), Keillor announced that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan had died. The audience reacted with saddened sighs and gasps. But there was one audience member who hooted and cheered loudly. Keillor, a Democrat, ignored this person and gave Republican Reagan a warm tribute in the form of a gospel song.
- Chris Hewitt (May 16, 2005). Altman to direct 'Prairie Home Companion' movie. St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Altman debuts film at 2006 South by Southwest. Indianapolis Star
- A Prairie Home Companion official website
- A Prairie Home Companion: A Brief History
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- RTÉ's Garrison Keillor page with listen online facility
- BBC's Saturday comedy page with link to the most recent Garrison Keillor info
- A Prairie Home Compendium (Fan site with information about many early broadcasts)
- A Prairie Home Companion via streaming audio
- A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor @ Hollywood Bowl