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Garrison Keillor’s mellow baritone sounds just as good coming out of the phone as it does from the radio.
The longtime host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion” was on the line from Grand Rapids, Michigan, last week, talking about his retirement plans when he steps away from the show after more than 40 years. But first, Keillor and company are on the “America The Beautiful” summer tour.
Keillor said the touring show, which is not broadcast, is the chance to put together some of his favorite material over the years from “A Prairie Home Companion.” He described it as a “generous” show, almost three hours long. The material is essentially unchanged from night to night.
“I enjoy it more than most of the broadcasts, because the anxiety is not there,” Keillor said. “When you do a live radio show you get the feeling you’re never on top of the the material. Also, the tour gets you around the country, and I love life on the road.”
Expect to hear plenty of old-time music, mock commercials, tales of Guy Noir, private eye, and, of course, the news from Lake Wobegon, the fictional Minnesota town “where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.”
Keillor, 72, has announced he plans to retire from “A Prairie Home Companion” in July 2016, after next season. This is not the first time Keillor has announced retirement plans, but this time he sounds as though he really means it.
“My reasons are very simple,” he said. “You want to stop while the show is still going well, and while you still love doing it. I’m still interested in Lake Wobegon and the people who live there. I’m still able to sing on key.”
Plus, Keillor said, he has other things he really wants to do.
“I think there’s another life to be lived,” he said.
That life includes producing a screenplay he has written set in Lake Wobegon. “Screenplays are hard to write, because movies don’t depend on words to tell the story,” he said.
He’d also like to finish two books, a novel and a memoir.
“It’s very hard to finish a book while you’re working on a radio show,” he said.
Keillor is handing over the reins of “A Prairie Home Companion” to musician Chris Thile, of Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers, although Keillor will stay on as executive producer for one season.
“My job is to let Chris do his own thing. ... I think he’ll do such a good job with the show. He loves radio, he loves music. He has a really good heart,” Keillor said.
Exactly what Thile will do remains to be seen, although Keillor said the show will still be broadcast live and still be at least partially based in the Midwest.
Since “A Prairie Home Companion” is so closely tied to Keillor’s voice, both literally and figuratively, why keep the show going at all?
“Because it wouldn’t go away,” Keillor said. “We would stay on in reruns. I don’t have any control over that. Public radio would exploit the show, and it would go on and on ad nauseum. It would go on forever.
“I don’t like that. Turn it over to the young people and see what they can do.”