Public radio ponders future without Prairie Home's Keillor

Delivering the News
Garrison Keillor presents the news from Lake Wobegon during the first A Prairie Companion in decades when he was not the show's host.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

In an interview with AARP published on their website, Garrison Keillor said he plans to step down from hosting A Prairie Home Companion in the spring of 2013.

It was an off-hand comment in an interview about his new book, an anthology of poetry called "Good Poems: American Places."

The interviewer, writing for the American Association of Retired People, dutifully asked Keillor about his own plans for retirement.

His response was one of the more precise he's ever given on the topic, citing spring of 2013 as his target date.

But even then he qualified the statement by saying "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."

President and CEO of Minnesota Public Radio Bill Kling says he's not taking the announcement too seriously.

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

Kling, who has known Keillor for 44 years, said he doesn't think Keillor is the type of person who can retire, at least not fully, and so he imagines Keillor will stay involved with A Prairie Home Companion for as long as he's able.

"I think what's been announced here, and this is about the 15th time he's made a similar announcement, is that he's thinking what other kind of talent might join him in producing the show and he's hoping that these kinds of things draw enough publicity to trigger an idea in someone's mind that he doesn't know, that will show up and be a player," he said.

A Prairie Home Companion is one of the most successful public radio shows in the nation, and generates significant income for both Minnesota Public Radio and its parent company American Public Media. But Bill Gray, Director of Communications for APM and MPR, declined to say just how much of the company's revenue comes from the weekly variety show.

"A Prairie Home Companion is unique in radio shows and of course Garrison is the heart and soul of that - he's the genius behind the show," he said. "I know that Garrison wants the show to continue once he's gone and I know that he's going to do his best to make sure that happens and we support him every step of the way in that."

A spokesman for Garrison Keillor said was unavailable for an interview for this story, however he did respond to an e-mail from the Associated Press saying that he'll be 70 in the spring of 2013, "and that seems like a nice round number."

He also told the Associated Press "The reason to retire is to try to avoid embarrassment; you ought to do it before people are dropping big hints. You don't want to wait until you trip and fall off the stage."

American Public Media sent an e-mail to public radio stations around the country, reassuring them that "APHC is continuing in its present form for the foreseeable future."

Flo Rogers, President and General Manager of Nevada Public Radio, said news of Keillor's retirement is not surprising.

"We knew at some point that Garrison -- obviously with the health issues, the challenge that he faced a couple of years ago -- obviously that was on our minds then, but now we really do have to think about what's next," he said.

Rogers says the challenge will be for public radio stations to keep developing new talent, and to not shy away from important programming that commercial stations don't find cost effective.

In the meantime, Rogers says she's going to cherish Keillor's presence on A Prairie Home Companion that much more.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.