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A Prairie Home Companion

A live production of A Prairie Home Companion in 2007
Genre Comedy–music variety
Running time 2 hours
Country United States
Languages English
Home station Minnesota Public Radio
Syndicates American Public Media
Starring Garrison Keillor
Air dates since July 6, 1974 – 1987
1989–1993 (as American Radio Company)
Opening theme Tishomingo Blues

A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. The show runs two hours on Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m Eastern 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 comedic storytelling segment, "News from Lake Wobegon".

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

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.[1]



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.

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 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.


Garrison Keillor and other cast members live on-stage in Lanesboro, Minnesota.

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 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 in the period between 1974 and 1987.

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.


The Rhubarb Sisters singing on A Prairie Home Companion.

Radio comedy skits featuring Keillor and the ensemble are performed, such as the satirical "Guy Noir, Private Eye", which pokes fun at film noir (gumshoe detective films) 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 theatre audience. A 2006 Guy Noir skit about Tourette syndrome, titled "Broadway Tourette's", prompted a press release from the Tourette Syndrome Association[4]. Also regularly featured 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.

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 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 Emil 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 is unscripted and usually lasts 15 minutes or more.

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


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.

Sign for a fictional sponsor.

Other original "sponsors" have included

  • The Sidetrack Tap
  • Mournful Oatmeal ("Calvinism in a box")
  • Raw Bits breakfast cereal
  • Jack's Auto Repair and Jack's Warm Car Service
  • Midwestern Discount Store
  • The Bon Marché Beauty Salon
  • Bertha's Kitty Boutique (having locations in the "Dales" shopping centers: "Roy'n'Dale, Airedale, Teasdale, Chippendale, Mondale, and all the other fine shopping centers.")
  • The Fearmonger's Shop, a purveyor of security devices for the perpetually paranoid
  • 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)
  • Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery ("If you can't find it at Ralph's, you can probably get along without it"), the inspiration of the name of the Pretty Good Privacy cryptographic software[5]. (Ralphs Grocery Co. is the name of a real chain of markets in Southern California. It is not clear whether this coincidence has had any legal repercussions.)
  • Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie and Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Frozen Rhubarb Pie Filling. ("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". This is usually sung following a sound-effect-enhanced tale of woe and immediately followed by "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 Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie." [6]
  • 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.")
  • Rent-a-Raptor (Rid your home of mice, rabbits, squirrels, and pesky boyfriends)
  • Fritz Electronics ("Where everything you need is on the Fritz")
  • Bob's Bank ("Save at the sign of the sock.", "Neither a borrower nor a lender be.")
  • 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").

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" after a short skit of the sufferings of a middle-aged couple, 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 Federation of Associated Organizations, 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. 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 the state of Maine.


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. The program occasionally features political satire. At the beginning of June 5, 2004 show (which was broadcast from Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion 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 following the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, Keillor changed up the format of the show, starting off the show with Wellstone's favorite segment, Guy Noir, skipping even the usual theme song for the show.


In addition to Garrison Keillor, several other performers frequently appear on A Prairie Home Companion:

Gary Raynor and Rich Dworsky.

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. In the 1990s before Russell, Bill Perry and Walter Bobbie were actors. Ivy Austin was a regular contributing comedienne and vocalist in the early 90's. Also, Erica Rhodes occasionally joins the company.

Broadcast information

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. Sirius XM Satellite Radio carries the show via its XM Public Radio and NPR Now channels.

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. NPR Worldwide, NPR's international radio channel, also broadcasts the full show at 1200 CET on the Hotbird satellite.

An alternative edition of the show is broadcast in the UK by BBC Radio 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.

"The News From Lake Wobegon" is also available as a free weekly podcast.


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.

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)
  • Gospel Birds and other Stories of Lake Wobegon, as Heard Live on Broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion [2 CD] (1985, HighBridge Company)
  • 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)
  • A Prairie Home Companion Anniversary Album: The First Five Years [2 cassettes] (1988, PHC, Inc.)
  • Shaking The Blues Away, Rob Fisher and The Coffee Club Orchestra with Garrison Keillor (1992, Angel Records in association with EMI Records Ltd.)
  • A Prairie Home Companion: English Majors: A Comedy Collection for the Highly Literate [2 CD] (2008, HighBridge Company)


External links

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