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A Prairie Home Companion

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A Prairie Home Companion

A Prairie Home Companion
Keillor and cast during a live production of A Prairie Home Companion in 2007
Genre Comedy–music variety
Running time 2 hours
Country United States
Language(s) English
Home station Minnesota Public Radio
Syndicates American Public Media
Starring Garrison Keillor
Sue Scott
Tim Russell
Fred Newman
Producer(s) Garrison Keillor
Exec. producer(s) (KSJN)
Air dates since July 6, 1974
Opening theme Tishomingo Blues
Website .org.publicradioprairiehome

A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. The show runs on Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Central Time, and usually originates from the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint 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, tongue-in-cheek radio drama, and Keillor's 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; it has existed in a similar form since as far back as 1974 and borrows its name from a radio program in existence in 1969 that was named after the Prairie Home Cemetery in Moorhead, Minnesota, next to Concordia College.[1]

The radio program inspired a 2006 film of the same name, written by Keillor, directed by Robert Altman, and featuring Keillor, Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, and Woody Harrelson.


The earliest radio program to have the name bore little resemblance to the present Saturday-evening show. A Prairie Home Companion was originally a morning show, running from 6 to 9 a.m. on Minnesota Public Radio.

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, which was renovated in 1986 and renamed the Fitzgerald Theater in 1994. This is the same location that the program uses today.

A Prairie Home Companion at the 2011 Minnesota State Fair

The show went off the air in 1987, and Keillor married and spent some time abroad during the following two years. For a brief time, the show was replaced – both on the air and in the World Theater – by Good Evening, a live variety show designed by ex-Prairie Home and All Things Considered staffers to retain the audience Keillor cultivated over the years. Many stations opted instead to continue APHC repeats in its traditional Saturday time slot.[2]

In 1989, Keillor returned to radio with The American Radio Company of the Air (renamed Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company in its second season), broadcast originally from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The new program was a slightly revised format, with sketches and musical guests reflecting a more New York sensibility, rather than the country and folk music predominant in APHC. Also, while Keillor still sang and delivered a regular monologue on American Radio Company, Lake Wobegon was initially downplayed, as he felt it was "cruel" to talk to a Brooklyn audience about life in a small town. During this period, Keillor revived the full APHC format only for "annual farewell performances". In the fall of 1992, Keillor returned to the World Theater with ARC for the majority of the season, and the next year, the program officially reverted to the A Prairie Home Companion name and format.[3]

While many of the episodes originate from St. Paul, the show often travels to other cities around the U.S. and overseas for its live weekly broadcasts. Common road venues include The Town Hall in New York City; Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts; Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia; Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee; the Greek Theater in Los Angeles; and the State Theater in Minneapolis. There is also a show each year at the Minnesota State Fair.

The show was originally distributed nationally by Minnesota Public Radio in association with Public Radio International. Its current distributor is Minnesota Public Radio's distribution unit, American Public Media.


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 song was the Hank Snow hit "Hello Love".

Music is a main feature of the program; the show is a significant outlet for American folk music of many genres, especially country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel, but it also has guest performers from a wide variety of other styles of music, including classical, opera, and music from a number of different countries. The country musician and former record company executive Chet Atkins has appeared on the show many times, 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 Keillor and another female performer, often Jearlyn Steele, to form "The Hopeful Gospel Quartet". Peter Ostroushko, Greg Brown, Jean Redpath, and Prudence Johnson, among others, were recurring guests on the program between 1974 and 1987. The Wailin' Jennys and Andra Suchy are current recurring guests, and when the show travels, Keillor generally features local musicians and acts.

Greetings from members of the audience to friends and family at home (frequently humorous) are read each week by Keillor just after the show's intermission, at the top of the second hour.


The Rhubarb Sisters singing during taping of the show

Keillor and the ensemble perform comedy skits, such as the satirical "Guy Noir, Private Eye", which parodies film noir and radio dramas. Guy Noir's popularity is such that the first few notes of the theme or the first lines of the announcer's introduction ("A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets ...") often draw applause and cheers from the audience. Also regularly featured are the adventures of Dusty and Lefty, "The Lives of the Cowboys". In these skits, Dusty (Tim Russell) is a stereotypical rough-and-tumble cowboy, while Lefty (Keillor) is his sensitive counterpart.

News from Lake Wobegon

One of the show's best-known features is Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon", a weekly storytelling monologue, claiming to be a report from Keillor's fictitious hometown of 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 central Minnesota's large Scandinavian-American and German-American communities, and many of his fictional characters have names that reflect this. The "News from Lake Wobegon" does not have a set structure, but features recurring characters and places such as the Chatterbox Café, the Sidetrack Tap, Pastor Ingqvist of the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church and his successor Pastor Liz, Father Emil of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Roman Catholic Church (a parody of Our Mother 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."

Once a year the program runs a special "joke show", which generally includes the Lake Wobegon monologue and musical acts, but with other skits replaced by the performers taking turns telling jokes. Humorists such as Paula Poundstone and Roy Blount Jr. often make guest appearances on those shows, and listeners and audience members are encouraged to submit jokes for use on the air.

In-jokes 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. The components of this made-up word are portions of place names in the New England region of the United States, most of them in Maine (i.e.: Piscataqua, Passamaquoddy, and Androscoggin).


Because the program is aired on noncommercial radio, it is forbidden from carrying real advertisements. Instead, the show produces fictional advertisements for fictional products, which are performed in the style of live old-time radio commercials. The show acknowledges its actual underwriters at the beginning, end, and middle (break) of the show.

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 also pure, mostly", which "give 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.[4]

Sign for a fictional sponsor.

Other original "sponsors" have included

  • Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie (and Frozen Rhubarb Pie Filling). Bebop-A-Reebop's jingle ("One little thing can revive a guy, and that is a piece of rhubarb pie / Serve it up, nice and hot / Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought. Momma's little baby loves rhubarb rhubarb, Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie" to the tune of "Shortnin' Bread") is usually sung after a bombastic, sound-effect-enhanced tale of woe and immediately followed by Keillor asking, "Wouldn't this be a great time for a piece of rhubarb pie? Yes, nothing gets the taste of shame and humiliation out of your mouth quite like Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie."[5]
  • Bertha's Kitty Boutique (having locations in the "Dales" shopping centers: "Roy'n'Dale, Airedale, Teasdale, Clydesdale, Chippendale, Mondale, and all the other fine shopping centers" – a parody of the real Minneapolis-area malls known as the Dales, such as Southdale, Ridgedale, Brookdale, Rosedale, etc.)
  • Bob's Bank ("Save at the sign of the sock", "Neither a borrower nor a lender be")
  • The Bon Marché Beauty Salon
  • The Catchup Advisory Board (its name 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" after a short skit about the sufferings of Jim and Barb, a middle-aged couple ("Catchup: for the good times")
  • The Fearmonger's Shop, a purveyor of security devices for the perpetually paranoid
  • Fritz Electronics ("Where everything you need is on the Fritz")
  • Guy's Shoes ("Guy's steel-toed shoes – so even when you strike out [ping!] you can walk away", also the purveyor of Guy's All-Star Shoes, the Converse-like sponsor of the Shoe Band)
  • Jack's Auto Repair and Jack's Warm Car Service ("All tracks lead to Jack's where the bright shining lights show you the way to complete satisfaction")
  • Midwestern Discount Store
  • 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.")
  • Mournful Oatmeal ("Calvinism in a box")
  • Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery ("If you can't find it at Ralph's, you can probably get along without it")
  • Raw Bits breakfast cereal
  • Rent-a-Raptor (Rid your home of mice, rabbits, squirrels, and pesky boyfriends)
  • The Sidetrack Tap
  • The recurring segment "The Lives of the Cowboys" normally has its own, Western-themed sponsors, such as Prairie Dog Granola Bars ("healthier than chewing tobacco and you don't have to spit") and more recently Cowboy Toothpicks ("the toothpick that's guaranteed not to splinter")

Other fictional commercials have included the American English Majors (P.O.E.M.).


While much of the show is directed toward radio comedy, a portion is usually devoted to some more sentimental and sometimes dark stories put together by Keillor and others. The program occasionally also features political satire. At the beginning of the June 5, 2004 show (broadcast from Meadowbrook Musical Arts Center in Gilford, New Hampshire), Keillor announced that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan had died. A member of the audience hooted and cheered loudly, but Keillor, a staunch Democrat, gave the Republican Reagan a warm tribute in the form of a gospel song. Similarly, in a 2002 show airing the weekend after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, Keillor changed the format of the show, starting it off with Wellstone's favorite segment, Guy Noir, skipping even the show's theme song.

Guest hosts

On January 15, 2011, the program was hosted by singer Sara Watkins of San Diego, California. The format was the same, but Keillor appeared only as a guest actor and to recite his weekly "News from Lake Wobegon" story. He claimed he had taken the chance to see the show being performed for himself. According to Minnesota Public Radio,[6] this may be the beginning of a trend toward Keillor's eventual retirement. Keillor had been briefly hospitalized in 2009 after suffering a minor stroke but was back on the air a few days later.

On March 16, 2011, Keillor stated in an interview with the AARP that he would most likely retire from the show by the time he turned 70 (August 2012).[7]

In September 2011, Keillor told The Tuscaloosa News that his last broadcast would be recorded in "early July 2013", and that instead of a permanent replacement host, there will be "a whole group of people. A rotation of hosts."[8] But, in December 2011, Keillor said he had changed his mind and reconsidered his plans to retire because he still enjoys hosting the show.


In addition to Garrison Keillor, several other performers frequently appear on A Prairie Home Companion. Featured regular members of Guy's All-Star Shoe Band:

  • Pat Donohue – acoustic and steel guitars, vocals
  • Richard Dworsky – piano, organ, synthesizer, melodica, keyboards, vocals, band leader, music director
  • Gary Raynor – bass, bass guitar
  • Peter Johnson – drums, percussion
  • Andy Stein – violin, tenor and bass saxophones, vocals (now only appears occasionally)
  • Jearlyn Steele – gospel vocals
  • Jevetta Steele – gospel vocals

Other frequent, occasional, former or one-time guest members of Guy's All-Star Shoe Band (some of whom were also members of The Powdermilk Biscuit Band):

Guy's All Star Shoe Band also uses guest musicians from time to time. When the Shoe Band has a horn section, Keillor calls them the Shoe Horns.

  • Folk music duo Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson occasionally appeared as guest musicians. Hinkley died of cancer in May 2010. He was 67 years old.
  • Guitarist Joe Ely and accordionist Joel Guzman have frequently performed together on the show as guest musicians.

Sound effects artists:

Keith appeared in all the home-based shows while Newman appeared in the away shows. Keith died on October 30, 2011, after a heart attack. He was 64 years old. Leslye Orr, the only woman to have served as the show's sound effects person, appeared as a guest a few times. Steve Kramer has appeared as a sound effects man on the show multiple times.


  • Tim Russell
  • Sue Scott
  • During the show's season as The American Radio Company of the Air, Bob Elliott was a regular cast member. In the 1990s, before Russell joined the cast, Bill Perry and Walter Bobbie were members. Ivy Austin was a regular contributing comedienne and vocalist in the early '90s. Prudence Johnson has performed frequently on the show both as a singer and an actress. Mark Benninghofer joined the cast as a substitute actor for a brief time after Russell broke his ankle in February 2009, forcing him to take medical leave for a full month. Russell returned to work in March 2009. Erica Rhodes has been an occasional guest since she was 10 years old.

Frequently appearing guest singers:

A Prairie Home Companion Production Staff

The staff are the people who work onstage, offstage, backstage, or behind the scenes. Kathy Roach answers fan mail. During performances, Albert Webster frequently appears onstage (mainly to talk privately with Garrison or other performers). Webster is the only staff person who appears in front of large audiences.

Broadcast information

Keillor before a live broadcast in 2007

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. About 4 million U.S. listeners tune in each week.[9] The program is also carried around the world by the American Armed Forces Radio Network and America One. Sirius XM Satellite Radio carries the show via its XM Public Radio and NPR Now channels.

In Europe, the show is broadcast by WRN Europe on Sundays at 1100 UTC. NPR Worldwide, NPR's international radio channel, also broadcasts the full show at 1200 CET on the Hotbird satellite and NPR Berlin, Germany on FM.

An alternative edition of the show is broadcast in the UK by BBC Radio 4 Extra, in the Republic of Ireland by RTÉ Radio 1, and on Australia's ABC Radio National under the name Garrison Keillor's Radio Show. This version runs approximately one hour and features the News from Lake Wobegon and selected musical acts and comedy sketches. Unlike A Prairie Home Companion, it has no station breaks. There are also no underwriting credits, as the BBC and ABC do not use underwriting to fund broadcasts (RTÉ normally does, but still broadcasts the same version of the show), though some of the program's fictional sponsors are still credited.

Radio New Zealand National also carries the show from time to time.

Owing to licensing considerations, most musical performances cannot be released outside of a broadcast or streaming agreement from music publishers, so the show is not podcast by itself, except for the "News from Lake Wobegon" segments. (Even performances of public-domain songs are covered under performance royalties if their performers are under contract.) Shows including musical performances are on the website in the Archive, but are playable only as a media stream for this reason.[10]


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 canceled.

The film does not follow the precise format of the radio show, notably excluding any reference to Lake Wobegon.

LP/CD releases

  • A Prairie Home Album [LP] (Minnesota Educational Radio)
  • Pretty Good Jokes [2 CD] (2000, HighBridge Audio)
  • Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet (1992, Sony)
  • Lake Wobegon Loyalty Days (1993, EMI)
  • Garrison Keillor's Comedy Theater: More Songs and Sketches from A Prairie Home Companion [3 CD] (1996, HighBridge Company)
  • Horrors! A Scary Home Companion [2 CD] (1996, HighBridge Company)
  • A Prairie Home Companion Anniversary Album [2 LP] (1980, Minnesota Public Radio Inc.)
  • Shaking The Blues Away, Rob Fisher and The Coffee Club Orchestra with Garrison Keillor (1992, Angel Records in association with EMI Records Ltd.)
  • Pretty Good Bits From a Prairie Home Companion (2003)
  • A Prairie Home Companion: English Majors: A Comedy Collection for the Highly Literate [2 CD] (2008, HighBridge Company)
  • Church People: The Lutherans of Lake Wobegon (2009)

Stories from Lake Wobegon

  • Gospel Birds and Other Stories of Lake Wobegon (1985)
Includes the stories "Pastor Ingqvist's Trip to Orlando", "Mammoth Concert Tickets", "Bruno, the Fishing Dog", "Gospel Birds", "Meeting Donny Hart at the Bus Stop", "A Day at the Circus with Mazumbo", "The Tolleruds' Korean Baby", "Sylvester Krueger's Desk", and "Babe Ruth visits Lake Wobegon".
  • News from Lake Wobegon (April 1990)
Includes the stories "Me and Choir", "A Day in the Life of Clarence Bunsen", "Letter from Jim", "Fiction", "The Living Flag", "The Tollefson Boy Goes to College", "Tomato Butt", "Chamber of Commerce", "Dog Days of August", "Mrs. Berge and the Schubert Carillon Piano", "Giant Decoys", "Darryl Tollerud's Long Day", "Hog Slaughter", "Thanksgiving", "The Royal Family", "Guys on Ice", "James Lundeen's Christmas", "The Christmas Story Retold", "New Year's from New York", and "Storm Home".
  • More News from Lake Wobegon (April 1990)
Includes the stories "Rotten Apples", "O Death", "The Wise Men", "A Trip to Grand Rapids", "Truck Stop", "Smokes", "The Perils of Spring", "Let Us Pray", "Alaska", "Uncle Al's Gift", "Skinny Dip", "Homecoming", "Pontoon Boat", "Author", "Freedom of the Press", and "Vick's".
  • Lake Wobegon USA (September 1993)
Includes the stories "The Krebsbachs' Vacation", "Prophet", "The Six Labors of Father Wilmer", "Fertility", "Aunt Ellie", "Duke's 25th", "Job-Hunting", "You're Not the Only One", "Blue Devils", "Nostalgia", "O Christmas Tree", "Pageant", "Messy Shoes", "Rhubarb", "Sweet Corn", "The Sun's Gonna Shine Someday", and "Yellow Ribbon".
  • Summer (May 1997)
Includes stories from disc 2 of News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Fall (October 1997)
Includes stories from disc 3 of News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Winter (December 1997)
Includes stories from disc 4 of News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Spring (April 1998)
Includes stories from disc 1 of News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Life These Days (October 1998)
Includes the stories "Gladys Hits A Raccoon", "The World's Largest Pile", "My Cousin Rose", "The Risk Takers", "Pastor Ingqvist at the Mall", "Hunting Stories", "Sorrows of January", "Clarence Cleans His Roof", "Miracle of the Pastor's Dog", "War of the Krebsbachs", "Graduation", and "Spring" (printed insert).
  • Mother Father Uncle Aunt (May 1998)
Includes the stories "Ball Jars", "Love While you Dare To", "Saturday Morning in The Bon Marché", "Family Trip to Yellowstone", "The Flood", "Bob Anderson's Last Dance", "Children Will Break Your Heart", "Ronnie and The Winnebago", "Carl's Christmas Pageant", and "The Tombstone".
  • Humor (October 1998)
Includes the stories "Skinny Dip", "Homecoming", "The Freedom of the Press", and "Vick's" from More News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Love (February 1999)
Includes the stories "Truck Stop", "Uncle Al's Gift", "Rotten Apples", and "The Wise Men" from More News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Home on the Prairie (July 2003)
  • Never Better (2007)
  • Faith (April 2008)
Includes stories from disc 1 of More News from Lake Wobegon.
  • Hope (April 2008)
Includes stories from disc 2 of More News from Lake Wobegon.


  1. ^ "PHC 25th anniversary website". Retrieved December 15, 2009. 
  2. ^ Bowermaster, Jon (December 13, 1987). "Fresh Voices Hope to Be Far From Wobegon". New York Times. 
  3. ^ Songer, Marcia (2000). Garrison Keillor: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 9–10.  
  4. ^ Garrison Keillor, pp. 35, 85. University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
  5. ^ Keillor, Garrison Imaginary rhubarb pie commercial Retrieved May 26, 2008
  6. ^ "The news from Lake Wobegon: more guest hosts likely | State of the Arts | Minnesota Public Radio News". 2011-01-15. Retrieved 2013-10-09. 
  7. ^ Kaufmann, Carol (2011-03-16). Garrison Keillor Announces Retirement. AARP Bulletin. Retrieved March 18, 2011.
  8. ^ Cobb, Mark Hughes (2011-09-09). 'Prairie Home Companion' tour comes to the Amp. The Tuscaloosa News. Page 5 of 5. Retrieved September 9, 2011.
  9. ^ "American Public Media, Nation's Second Largest Public Radio Company, Announces it Now Serves 14.6 Million Listeners Each Week, a 14 Percent Audience Increase". PR Newswire. Retrieved January 10, 2012. 
  10. ^ American Public Media. "Podcasts". Retrieved 19 April 2014. 

External links

  • official websiteA Prairie Home Companion
  • : A Brief HistoryA Prairie Home Companion
  • Behind the Scenes in Memphis (Orpheum Theater – June 16, 2001) Retrieved May 25, 2008
  • : PodcastA Prairie Home Companion
  • A Prairie Home Companion at the Internet Movie Database
  • 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)
  • via streaming audioA Prairie Home Companion
  • with Garrison Keillor at the Hollywood BowlA Prairie Home Companion
  • – BBC interview with Garrison KeillorRadio's enduring appeal
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