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Keillor tells AARP he'll retire in May 2013

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Garrison Keillor
In 1981, Garrison Keillor brought his radio program, "A Prairie Home Companion," to the World. Keillor's long tenure as host of the show is coming to an end in the spring of 2013, he told the AARP Bulletin.
MPR File Photo

Garrison Keillor's long tenure as host of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion is coming to an end. 

Keillor told the AARP Bulletin that he plans to retire in the spring of 2013. He created the show in 1974.

When the 68-year-old was asked if he plans to "scale back," Keillor replied, "I am planning to retire in the spring of 2013, but first I have to find my replacement. I'm pushing forward, and also I'm in denial. It's an interesting time of life." 

While Keillor did not respond to MPR's request for a phone interview, he did respond to an Associated Press query via e-mail. 

Keillor told The Associated Press in an email that he'll be 70 in the spring of 2013, "and that seems like a nice round number."

He added, "The reason to retire is to try to avoid embarrassment; you ought to do it before people are dropping big hints. You want to be the first to come up with the idea. You don't want to wait until you trip and fall off the stage."

Two hosts
Garrison Keillor listened from the wings of the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul as Sarah Watkins filled in as guest host on the show on Jan. 14, 2011.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

  Keillor has made no secret that he is thinking about the future of the show, particularly since he suffered a minor stroke in September 2009. 

A flurry of chatter and dismay erupted in mid-January when it was announced that Keillor would step aside as host for the Jan. 15 performance at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, instead appearing as a guest. Singer and fiddler Sara Watkins hosted the show. 

"She did great. She got everything in," Keillor said after the show. "It's such a huge asset to have a musician host it." 

He continued, "I think she'll do even better the next time," he said. "I hope so. Why wouldn't she?" 

Keillor added, "I may be let free from this prison. These prison bars may be about to open." 

Garrison Keillor on Midday
Garrison Keillor talks with Gary Eichten at Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, Minn. Friday, Sept. 3, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Speculation immediately began that this was a precursor to retirement for Keillor. The radio program is now broadcast on nearly 600 public radio stations and heard by more than 4 million people each week. 

Minnesota Public Radio President and CEO Bill Kling appeared unfazed by the announcement. 

"Well, I don't consider it news," he said. "Garrison has been talking about things like this for the last couple of years and when Garrison says it, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's anything more than that morning's musings." 

Kling predicts the transition to a new Prairie Home Companion host will be a long one, as Keillor tries out new ideas and gradually cedes artistic control to people he trusts.