As you know, Garrison Keillor is retiring from A Prairie Home Companion (APHC) and will be replaced by musician Chris Thile. Pubradio folks who have been around for a while may recall that Keillor retired once before. Things didn’t work out so great and folks hope the mistakes from back then are not repeated.
In 1987, Keillor retired and left A Prairie Home Companion to move to his wife's native Denmark. Soon after that, he moved to New York. To replace Keillor, American Public Media (APM) hired then All Things Considered (ATC) co-host Noah Adams. The replacement program was called Good Evening From Minnesota With Noah Adams. It debuted in January 1988.
The public radio system was much smaller in 1988. When Keillor left APHC the program was carried on around 180 stations. At the time, ATC was NPR’s biggest show and the hiring of Adams was seen as a shrewd move by APM. Noah Adams was, and still is, a “bankable” public radio personality.
APM sold Good Evening to stations as something new that continued the traditions of APHC. Good Evening tanked within a year and Adams moved back to ATC in February 1989. Reality didn’t meet expectations because APM never positioned Good Evening as a new and different program. Program Directors and listeners hoped for “Garrison 2.0.” Reviews of the first reviews of Good Evening were revealing:
• From the Christian Science Monitor newspaper January 13, 1988:
Headline: Noah Adams show bows in old Keillor time slot. For `Prairie Home' fans the new `Good Evening' has a semi-familiar sound
For frustrated ``Companion'' fans, the new show has a semi-familiar sound. Adams reads letters from listeners and says he'll keep it up - offering ``letters from history,'' as he said Saturday, and ``letters as literature.''
The difference, of course, is what departed with Keillor himself. The new show seems less idiosyncratic, less likely to duck suddenly into one of the creative comic byways that were always lurking in Keillor's imagination. It was positively sobering, in fact, to hear opening credits for funders of the new show and realize they were legit - that the show was no longer brought to you by the mythical ``Powdermilk Biscuits.''
The new program pokes gentle fun at its own cracker barrel image - but without the wry reflectiveness you always sensed echoing in the recesses of Keillor's cavernous voice.
Keillor's monologue…was the art of radio. Keillor's show was an all-embracing feeling that wrapped itself around a listener and also seemed to contain the show itself.
• From the Philadelphia Inquirer February 1988:
Everything about Good Evening had a familiar ring, from the soothing baritone voice of host Noah Adams, through the tone and cadence of the presentation, to the type of music and the wryly humorous skits. The ghost of Garrison Keillor lives on in Good Evening.
There was no news from Lake Wobegon, of course. That cast of characters, which became dear to four million listeners over 13 years, has up and gone to New York with Keillor.
Whether Good Evening, Minnesota Public Radio's new live radio variety show, can scale the same heights as Companion will depend on Adams.
Adams, who inherited Keillor's time slot, his spot on the stage at the World Theater in St. Paul and, no doubt, a good many of his listeners, made little effort to take his show in a different direction. The theory is that there is an audience that still wants something like Keillor's down-home, soothing style.
From the beginning, the folks at Minnesota Public Radio have promised that Good Evening would be more urban than Companion, more diverse in its musical offerings, less a star vehicle than Keillor's show. If Saturday night was any indication, those promises have been only partially fulfilled.
As for the more urban sound, well, it just wasn't there. Adams, who was suffering from a lingering case of laryngitis Saturday night, he may have been at center stage, but he did not command center stage the way Keillor did. Whether he ever will, of course, is the big question.
|1989 Promotional Poster|
The answer to the question was “no.” On November 1, 1988, APM announced that Noah Adams was “retiring.” Good Evening stayed around for a while. Then Keillor returned to host American Radio Company, APHC with a different name. Eventually it became APHC again.
• Like 1988, new host Chris Thile will be compared to Keillor. Has APM differentiated Thile enough? Does Thile have chops that Keillor didn’t?
• Is APM being too “safe” – putting a new face on an old brand? APHC is one of the most expensive programs in noncommercial radio.
Has the new program with Thile earned this big payday? Will stations pay a slightly discounted fee for a program that doesn’t have Keillor?
• Is APHC an institution or a personal creative vehicle for Keillor that can not be replaced by anyone else?