A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, 68, has announced that he plans to retire in the spring of 2013. He tells the AARP Bulletin that he must find his replacement first. "I'm pushing forward, and also I'm in denial," he says. "It's an interesting time of life." Keillor created the show in 1974 in Minnesota. It is now distributed by American Public Media to 590 public radio stations across the country, and heard by more than 4 million people each week.
As for his legacy, "I just want people in St. Paul and Minneapolis to feel that I was some sort of community asset and not a big embarrassment. It may be a close call."
Minnesota Public Radio chief Bill Kling, who brought Prairie Home into national distribution, downplayed the announcement as a publicity stunt, intended to tease Keillor's fans and bring new contributors into the Prairie Home Companion talent mix. "He throws things out there to see what the reaction would be," Kling told Current.
Keillor welcomed musician Sara Watkins on as his first-ever guest host in January and still participated in writing and performing on the show. "That's who he is — he can't not be part of a show that he loves doing," Kling said.
"I think what you'll find is he needs to have some kind of process" for working with new performers and writers," Kling said. "A lot of the show hinges on his writing."
As soon as the AARP story broke, APM sent a memo reassuring its client stations. "Garrison has been open in talking about his own future and in working out ways for A Prairie Home Companion to continue for many years to come," the memo said.. "Both Garrison Keillor and APM are very committed to the success of the program now and to planning and preparing for the next phase of APHC. APM is supportive of Garrison's plans for the program in the near and longer term and we will keep stations informed as planning unfolds. We know this is important to you. APHC is continuing in its present form for the foreseeable future."
Keillor, who made the announcement to AARP before heading off on vacation, suffered a minor stroke in September 2009 but soon dived back into his schedule of weekly shows and book- and column-writing. That month he mentioned retirement in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune — prompting the paper to estimate the "ripple effects" that his retirement would have on the Minnesota's economy. Answer: " ... Enormous for businesses, from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) to the Minnesota State Fair."
The State Fair? "A live appearance by Keillor is almost always a draw," the paper says. "Crowds of between 7,000 and 11,000 have shown up during the last six years when Prairie Home has been booked at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand."
He was the subject of an American Masters documentary (Current, July 6, 2009), "Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes."