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January 11, 2007 | 14 Comments

Mr. Keillor,
Since this past summer, I've become addicted to old radio shows (OTR.net). I've been listening to Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, CBS Radio Workshop, The Great Gildersleeve, The Couple Next Door, You Bet Your Life, Command Performance, and such interesting cultural artifacts as I Was A Communist For The FBI. After a couple of months of listening to radio instead of watching TV, I find that television bores me — just can't watch it anymore. There's something tedious about seeing the pictures on the screen instead of in my mind. Go figure.

My question: Are there any programs from the golden age of radio that you consider sources of inspiration for A Prairie Home Companion — the show or any of the running skits? Any performers or serials you were addicted to in your formative years?

Stella F.
San Francisco

I listened to most of the shows you mention, Stella, not on OTR.net but on a floor-model Zenith radio in a big wooden cabinet with temple-like pillars and a big speaker. I lay on my stomach and soaked them all up and then they all faded away. I'm not that interested in hearing them again and don't feel that PHC is channeling or recreating them, but who am I to say? What's interesting to me is your interest in them. And their availability on the Internet. And now I've looked at OTR.net and the vast array of old shows offered and it's quite staggering. If I got into this, I could easily spend weeks here and forget to come to work, just sit unshaven day after day eating Twinkies and listening to "The Great Gildersleeve" and "Father Knows Best". There are more than four-hundred half-hour episodes of FKB at OTR.net, which adds up to a couple weeks of steady listening. My family would have to stage an intervention. I might be helpless to control my nostalgia and have to turn to a Higher Power and sit in a church basement with other radioheads and talk about the empty places in our lives that "Amos and Andy" fills. I'm just not going to go down that road, Stella. You're a beautiful woman who sidled up to me at a cocktail lounge and offered me some deadly reefer and I'm saying no thanks, babes. First, it's old-time radio shows and before you know it I'm into vintage cars and then I'm taking part in Civil War reenactments and a guy's got to draw the line. But thanks, sweetheart.


14 Comments


Mr. Keillor,

This is regarding your reply to the letter from Stella F. of San Francisco praising old radio shows. I second Stellas vote for radio as superior to t.v. My favorite medium is radio for all types of programs including A Prairie Home Companion. In comparison to radio, t.v. has many drawbacks.
Your reply to Stella F. gave me the impression that you may have misunderstood her question. She did not ask you to go back and start listening to old radio again. She merely asked if any of the radio shows you listened to in the past inspired your present show. Your response comparing old radio to dangerous reefer was an overreaction. I am a great fan of A Prairie Home Companion. I also like The Big Broadcast which broadcasts old radio shows each Sunday in the Washington D.C. area.


I think that PHC recreates an atmosphere of innocentness, pleasantness and decency, in a world where sex drugs and rock'n'roll are forced down the collective necks of the people. You recreate the atmosphere of Jack Benny without being fossilised. Its one of the few radio entertainments my children listen to.

Quote by Garrison K. :
"I'm not that interested in hearing them again and don't feel that PHC is channeling or recreating them,..."


Garrison-
Maybe you won't drink the Kool Aid, but we did...we're finding more hours in our day to explore OTR.net. Being a child of the 70's I have some idea of how powerful radio can be; We were around to experience the original FM radio. I envy those of you who heard these programs live.


I listen to otrnow.com a lot. It rocks... but The Big Broadcast on WAMU rules! I was born in 1959, so what is most interesting to me is to discover where so many of the TV characters I watched as a kid originated. My favorite show, though, is not one that made it to TV; I just love Johnny Dollar, "the man with the action-packed expense account." Who knew free-lance insurance investigators led such interesting lives?


I chuckled at Mr. Keillor's response. It is true. You could get swept away by all the old shows online now. There are hundreds and hundreds of hours of material out there. Me, I've been having a blast listening to all the old supernatural shows: "Lights Out," "Quiet Please," and "Suspense!" What an era. What fun!

What's really remarkable is how many stories from OTR were recycled into the new medium of television, when TV first appeared.

And I also agree with the original writer--TV is a bit of a letdown once you start relying on your own imagination again.


Dear Garrison, Sometimes your show reminds me of the Arthur Godfrey show, only better. One of the things Godfrey did was to pioneer talking like a normal person on radio instead of using a stilted, formal !!RADIO!! voice. I am also reminded of the Jack Benny show, my all-time favorite, because of the gentle humor and the recurring characters. I like old-time radio, but I love your show. Thank you so much for doing your thing.
-Nancy Sturhan
Olympia, Washington


Mr. Keillor,

You are a wise man to avoid OTR. Although a mere stripling at 42 and British at that, I have become addicted to American OTR.

However, it is with deep regret that I do have to say that you are the cause of this addiction. Some years ago BBC Radio Three broadcast several editions of APHC and I became mildly addicted. Them BBC 7 came along with The Garrison Keillor Show (a cut-down version of APHC) and I was hooked. Soon I was listening to The Goon Show, Hancock's Half Hour and Life with the Lyons, but it was not enough. It just didn't have that American homeliness I craved.

Soon I was doing The Mel Blanc Show, Amos and Andy and The Shadow. Now I have hit rock bottom and find myself not only having to do APHC over the internet and but find myself listening to Dragnet at least twice a week.

And YOU, Mr Keillor, are to blame!


Garrison:
I discovered OTR in the mid-80s, about the same time I started listening to PHC. In both cases I rarely just sit and listen. Audio entertainment allows me to enjoy otherwise mundane tasks like driving, painting the house, cleaning up after my children, or fighting insomnia ("Inner Santum" is scarier at 2 a.m.). So I happily disagree that you don't have to become a slave to nostalgia to enjoy the Great Gildersleeve or the radio version of Father Knows Best. All you need is a good mp3 player.

BTW: Fibber McGee and Molly and Gildersleeve are much funnier than any current TV sitcom.

Michael
Moorhead, Minn.


Mr. Keillor:

If you haven't already, you could work this whole old radio letter to you into a skit for the show. I had some vidid pictures in my mind as I read your reply. That wonderful gift you have for getting into people's heads is what makes old radio and Prarie Home Companion timeless treasures, and keeps us waiting for next weeks episode.


GK's own body of work presents a slippery slope itself what with over 30 years of PHC archived in various media including the website. Any one of us could go from being a once a week listener of the show to becoming a PHC addict who doesn't leave his room while listening to old shows over and over. So, if anyone is guilty sidling up to us in a bar and offering deadly reefer, look no further than that tall man in red suspenders!


Whilst we are reminiscing on OTR don't forget the venerable Stan Freberg - possibly the last great independent mind in live radio. Although his show only lasted a couple of months, it brought the art of satire and "good clean fun" to a height unscaled by most since. PHC is a weekend staple of mine - returning a bit of sanity at the end of typically insane weekdays. I only wish it was on for half an hour every evening as well. Maybe if the cast would put in an extra half an hour on the weekend shows, it could replay in segments during the week! That would be Heaven, or at least near Minnesota.

DWF
SLC, UT


Couldn't help but throw this in: If you have Itunes, there are a couple stations that play old time radio theater shows in the radio section. Fire up Itunes, look to the left in the sidebar, click on the word "Radio", then click Talk/Spoken Word. From there, check out ACB or AM 1710 Antioch. The Antioch station broadcasts the programs on the same day/month that they were originally aired. Nice show in SF, today.
Cheers,
Troy


Garrison,

I turned to OTR to get old BOB AND RAY shows at a decent price, a pair who you have praised before, which is why I started looking for them.

Just had to get that off my chest.

Jim
Originally Lincoln, NE but now in Starnberg, Germany


I am very grateful to have had the OTR site pointed out to me. I will spend many hours listening to the old shows, so I can understand Garrison's reluctance to "take the first puff," as it were. But I had thought for several years of calling to his attention one radio show in particular which seemed to me very Lake Woebegone-ish in the sweetness of its humor: Vic and Sade. And my very favorite episode of Vic and Sade is at OTR: "Muted Silver Moonbeam Chimes" (though "Bacon Sandwiches" is a close second). I defy anyone to listen to it and not get hooked. My father and I even spend a wonderful day going through the collection of Paul Rhymer's Vic and Sade scripts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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