A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. The show runs two hours on Saturdays from 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. A Prairie Home Companion is known for its musical guests, especially folk and traditional musicians, as well as Keillor's comedic storytelling segment, "News from Lake Wobegon."
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, 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 6 July 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, which was renovated in 1986 and renamed the Fitzgerald Theater in 1994. This is the same location that the program uses today.
The show went off the air in 1987, and Keillor married and 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 1993, this show moved to Minnesota and its name was returned to A Prairie Home Companion. While many of the episodes originate from St. Paul, the show often travels to other cities around the U.S. and overseas to do a live weekly broadcast. Among common road venues for the show are The Town Hall in New York City; Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts; Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia; Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee and the State Theater in Minneapolis. There is also a show each year at the Minnesota State Fair.
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."
Music is a strong feature of the program; the show is a significant outlet for American folk music of many genres, especially country, bluegrass, blues and gospel, but the show also has guest performers from a wide variety of other styles of music including classical and opera and from a number of different countries. Chet Atkins, noted country musician and former record company executive, appeared many times on the show, as have singer-songwriters Mark Knopfler (lead guitarist and frontman of the bands Dire Straits and the Notting Hillbillies), and Jeff Lang. Folk/gospel duo Robin and Linda Williams have been regular guests since 1976, and often join with Keillor and a second female vocalist to form "The Hopeful Gospel Quartet".
Greetings from members of the audience (which are frequently humorous) to friends and family at home are read each week by Keillor just after the show's intermission at the top of the second hour.
One of the show's best known features is Keillor's News from Lake Wobegon, a weekly story-telling monologue, 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 all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." The opening words of the monologue usually do not change: "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie." Keillor often pokes fun at the large Scandinavian-American community in the northern parts of the Midwest, with Minnesota being a primary example, and so many of his fictional characters have names that reflect this. The News from Lake Wobegon does not have a set structure, but often features recurring characters and places, such as the Chatterbox Café, the Sidetrack Tap, Pastor Inqvist of the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church, Father Wilmar of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Roman Catholic Church (a parody of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), the Lake Wobegon Whippets sports teams, various members of the Bunsen and Krebsbach families, and an assortment of nearby "Norwegian bachelor farmers." The monologue usually runs more than 10 minutes and is delivered without a script.
Other original "sponsors" have included
Other recurring bits on the show include fictional commercials, including those for The Catchup Advisory Board (its name being a compromise between the two common spellings for the condiment: "catsup" and "ketchup"), which proclaims the good news about the condiment's "natural mellowing agents", the American Duct Tape Council, Marvin and Mavis Smiley seasonal bluegrass albums, Fred Farrell Animal Calls, the Professional Organization of English Majors (P.O.E.M.), Earl's Academy of Accents, the American Society of Sound Effects Specialists, and the Café Boeuf, a snobbish French restaurant in Lake Wobegon. In-joke references are also sprinkled through the show, such as "Piscacadawadaquoddymoggin," a made-up word that's been used both for places and for people's names.
Keillor is considering adding a radio advice call-in segment, based on Dr. Laura.
Featured Members of Guy's All-Star Shoe Band:
Sound effects artists:
During its season as The American Radio Company of the Air, Bob Elliott was a regular cast member.
Ivy Austin was a regular contributing comedienne and vocalist in the early 90's.
Radio New Zealand National carries it from time to time.
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,in Ireland by RTÉ Radio 1 and on Australia's ABC Radio National 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 the BBC and ABC do not use underwriting as a means of funding broadcasts (RTÉ does, normally, but still broadcasts the same version of the show). However, some of the program's fictional sponsors are credited at the start of the show.
The current and many past shows can also be listened to for free as audio stream. They can be found in the archive section at the show's website. (See Weblinks section below)
The "News From Lake Wobegon" is also available as a free weekly podcast.
The film does not follow the precise format of the radio show, notably excluding any reference to Lake Wobegon.
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