'Prairie Home Companion' - the Radio Series Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Prairie Home Companion' - the Radio Series

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An old-fashioned radio and microphone
Well it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown . . .
That's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.

A Prairie Home Companion is a two-hour radio show on American Public Radio International, and it's similar to some of the programming on BBC Radio 4. The show is a sort of variety show, broadcast live, hosted and written by Garrison Keillor, a humorist who grew up in a small town in Minnesota. It's neat because it's like the old World War 2 radio shows you read about.


One of the best parts of the show is the music. The show has its own band, Richard Dworsky's Guys' All-Star Shoe Band comprising Andy Stein, Pat Donahue, Arnie Kinsella, and Gary Raynor ('if they can't do it nobody can'), which provides entr'actes1, the theme, and background music. Besides them, the show often brings musical guests, usually folk musicians: these include country fiddlers, children's choirs, choirs from other countries, and various and sundry guitarists.


The most endearing quality of the show to many are the ongoing mini-dramas. Acted by Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and Garrison Keillor, these are hilarious parodies of aspects of American life. Tom Keith provides sound effects through traditional folies and vocal methods, like coconuts, whistles, cat litter . . .

  • Lives of the Cowboys makes fun of our stereotypes of the American West with a really intellectual cowboy and his partner, and they eventually travel to California, whereupon they find they are not in Kansas anymore.

  • Guy Noir: Radio Private Eye satirises a detective in the twin cities and his lonely life, just like something straight out of the stereotype hard boiled mystery novel. The show chronicles his visits to a bar, his odd cases and his inability to find a girlfriend.

  • The high point of the show is reserved for the end of the two hours: News from Lake Wobegon. Keillor skewers the traditions of his 'hometown' in Minnesota: Scandinavian customs, good old-fashioned conservativism, the feud between the respectable Lutherans and the Catholics, the high school as the centre of the town, holidays with family, and many more of those things that make those of us who have tried to leave the country behind wince. This is absolutely hilarious!

Spoof Commercials and Other Features

The show also features parodies of commercials. The traditional one is Powdermilk Biscuits:

Has your family tried Powdermilk? . . . Made from wheat grown by Norwegian bachelor farmers, so you know it's mostly pure AND good for you.
Powdermilk: it gives shy persons the strength to get up and do what you have to do.

Then there is the English Majors' Union (Keillor was an English major), the Ketchup commercial (it fixes every problem in life), and several others which rotate, like Quo Vadis pharmaceuticals (which goes through a series of drugs for 'imaginary problems' like hypochondria or being vaguely worried - and finally, a drug for worrying about how many drugs you take!) and the Duct Tape Association.

Several events are staged each year:

  • Live broadcasts from specific locations

  • Talent from Towns under 2000

  • The Poetry Contest

  • The Annual Joke Show

And of course the in-jokes:

  • The Lake Wobegon motto.

  • The sound man's ongoing life drama.

  • The fictional co-writers: Sandy Beach, Earnest Money, Guy Wire, Warren Peace, and friends.

  • Finally, there are the greetings from individuals in the audience to their family members that may be listening.

The Show's Beginnings and Garrison Keillor, its Founder

Keillor became the host of a show called A Prairie Home Companion in 1969, but it took its current form in 1974 at Macalester College. Its home is the Fitzgerald Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota. There was a lacuna from 1987-9, the show started under a different name in 1989, and Prairie Home was restored to its previous format (which continues today) in 1993. It can be heard abroad on America One and the Armed Forces Networks in Europe and the Far East.

Keillor's magnificent voice can also be heard on the Writers' Almanac on weekdays. He occasionally also writes for Time and National Geographic, and has a weekly column in Salon Magazine.

1An entr'acte is a dance or a piece of music - an entertaining interlude - performed between two acts of a play.

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