About A Prairie Home Companion
A Brief History
If you showed up on July 6, 1974, at the Janet Wallace Auditorium at Macalester College in Saint Paul and plunked down your $1 admission (50 cents for kids) to attend the very first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, you were in select company. There were about 12 people in the audience. But those in attendance thought there were worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, so Garrison Keillor and the APHC team went on to produce close to 500 live shows in the first 10 years alone. There were broadcasts from this venue and that, until March 4, 1978, when the show moved to The World Theater, a lovely, crumbling building that was one plaster crack away from the wrecking ball. (Now fully renovated and renamed the Fitzgerald Theater, it is the show’s home base.)
In June of 1987, APHC ended for a while. Garrison thought it was a good idea at the time, but only two years later, the show was back, based in New York and called American Radio Company of the Air. But there’s no place like home. So in 1992, it was back to Minnesota and, soon after, back to the old name: A Prairie Home Companion.
There has been plenty of adventure in the past 40-plus years — broadcasts from Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, Iceland and almost every one of the 50 states; wonderful performers, little-known and world-renowned; standing ovations and stares of bewilderment. We’ve missed planes, coped with lost luggage, dodged swooping bats and hungry mosquitoes, plodded through blizzards, and flown by the seat of our pants.
Today, A Prairie Home Companion is heard by 2.6 million listeners each week on nearly 600 public radio stations, online, and on the American Forces Networks, SiriusXM Radio, Radio New Zealand, and KPRG in Guam. Garrison recalls, “When the show started, it was something funny to do with my friends, and then it became an achievement that I hoped would be successful, and now it’s a good way of life.”
In the fall of 2016, Chris Thile took over at the helm of A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison commented: “Chris is my man. … He is, I think, the great bluegrass performer of our time and he is a beautiful jazz player. There just isn’t anything he can’t do — and he is very enthusiastic about live radio.”
“I grew up with the show, says Chris. “I take this opportunity, this job, immensely seriously and with great awe.”