RADIO RETIREMENT HOME
posted by James Reel
Here's an article from the New York Times about how radio producers are hoping to fill the gaps left by the anticipated departure of some very popular, very long-running shows like Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion. The trouble is, those programs aren't really going away, even if the hosts do. The Car Talk guys are retiring after a 35-year run, but their old programs are going to be cannibalized and restitched for broadcast into the foreseeable future (they will continue to run locally on KUAZ). Garrison Keillor blows hot and cold on the idea of retiring from A Prairie Home Companion, and although he's not talking about retirement right now, he has said that he's on the lookout for a replacement host so the show won't die with him. Well, good luck with that. When Keillor ran away to Denmark with his high-school sweetheart in the 1980s, he left the show behind, and it was refashioned into something only slightly different with a new host, Noah Adams. It didn't quite work, and so we were then subjected to what seemed like centuries of PHC reruns until Keillor relented, revived a version of his show from a New York base, realized that wasn't quite right, and went back to the old PHC format in Minnesota. So it's pretty clear that if Keillor leaves someday, a new host won't be able to carry the show, which revolves around Keillor's personality, and we will once again be subjected to endless reruns. Same thing happened with Saint Paul Sunday: The series ended production, but repeated the final year's broadcasts for the next five years. We finally dumped the thing around the fourth rerun cycle, and now the reruns are finally being mothballed nationally.
I'm sure there are people who will gladly listen to rebroadcasts of these popular shows again and again for years to come. But I don't think endless reruns will serve the larger audience, and they will only make public radio seem increasingly hidebound and averse to innovation. The solution seems easy: Archive the old shows online, so people can have free and easy access to them forever. Then do something new on-air--don't muddle through with a hapless new host trying to maintain the old format, but create completely new programs. Some will fail. But a few decades ago, a lot of people scoffed at the idea that the peculiar A Prairie Home Companion could ever achieve a national following. We just have to keep trying new things until the public finds something it loves.
But one thing is certain: The next Prairie Home Companion will have to be completely different from Prairie Home Companion.