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[Audio] Commentary: Garrison Keillor's Retirement and Life Changes

Over this past summer, long-time public radio host Garrison Keillor announced his retirement from A Prairie Home Companion, in a slow transition during their 2015-2016 season. His replacement is singer and mandolinist (and for a time a Murray State student) Chris Thile best known as part of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers. Commentator Dr. Brian Clardy grew up listening to A Prairie Home Companion and says the change prompts him to reflect on other transitions in life.

Garrison Keillor's Retirement and Life Changes

by Dr. Brian K. Clardy

There was never a Saturday evening during my graduate school years at Murray State University where I was not listening to Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. The show became a personal favorite of mine as I loved the witty humor, slapstick comedy, and astute observation of current events. The very soothing and sharp voice of Keillor fit perfectly with the show's theme and I always viewed the production of it as well done. Over the years, I have carried my interest in the show to Martin, TN... then to Carbondale, IL... then to Chicago... and back to Murray as A Prairie Home Companion became MY companion. 

In 2002, I had the fortune to meet Garrison Keillor in Chicago and the experience was vintage Keillor.

The setting was the 90th birthday celebration for author and social critic Studs Terkel at the Chicago Cultural Center. There was a long line to get into the venue and as luck would have it, I was sitting next to the musical talent for the evening, folk singer Jim Post. After Keillor hosted a very fitting tribute to Studs, I approached him and chatted for a while. I told him that someone had swiped a copy of his book, The Book of Guys, from my collection. With his dry humor in tow, he said, "Well someone needed the book more than you!" We had a good laugh.

And then in November 2011, I was blessed to receive a free ticket to attend the live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the CFSB Center and an invitation to the post-show reception where I got to meet Keillor again. I discovered (rather late) the one thing that he and I had in common: we are both Episcopalians. We took a few pictures. A station colleague got his red sneakers autographed as I looked on... and my night was complete.

The news of Keillor's impending retirement has been rather difficult.

Life is changing so rapidly and permanently. 

In my life, friends are dying and moving away.

I am getting older and in a position to ask if I have a lot to show for it.

True love is in my life in fits and starts...

Colleagues that I have known for years are moving on. 

I'm two years away from half century. 

And now... one of my favorite radio hosts is about to hang up his microphone and his sneakers after decades of entertaining his fellow citizens. 

But then again, isn't this what A Prairie Home Companion has meant?

Garrison Keillor has given us voice in looking at the uncertainties and promise of life (with its losses and gains... its setbacks and its miracles... its tears and its laughter) and take it all in stride.

Chris Thile will be an excellent host and a fitting successor to the man from Lake Wobegon. And I am looking forward to hearing his take on life, love, being and living.

Yes. Life is about change.

Life is about the previous gift of memory.

Life is about the promise of a new hope.


Dr. Brian Clardy is an Associate Professor of History at Murray State University and is the host of Cafe Jazz, Wednesday nights on WKMS. Hear A Prairie Home Companion on WKMS Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m.

Dr. Brian Clardy is an assistant professor of history and Coordinator of Religious Studies at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. His academic research hs been published in "The Tennessee Historical Quarterly," The Journal of Church and State," and "The Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives."
Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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