A look back at the legacy of 'A Prairie Home Companion'

- In its heyday, A Prairie Home Companion was heard by more than 4 million listeners on 700 radio stations around the country.

To many people, the show is synonymous with Minnesota--a legacy now stained by allegations of inappropriate behavior against its creator, Garrison Keillor.

In light of the allegations Wednesday, Minnesota Public Radio terminated its contracts with Keillor and announced it would end rebroadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion and Keillor's other show, The Writer's Almanac, with the company also changing the name of the current incarnation of APHC, which host Chris Thile took over last year.

Despite the changes, however, many say the radio institution will continue to remain as much a part of the state's DNA as the music of Prince and Bob Dylan.

"We make fun of it like we make fun of the Mall of America," Star Tribune media critic Neal Justin said. "It's kind of dated and kind of corny, but whether we like it or not 'A Prairie Home Companion' has defined Minnesota to the rest of the world."

Keillor started the weekly radio variety show in 1974 at a time when public radio was trying to find its identity.

The show's mix of sketches, folksy music and Keillor's homespun stories about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minn.--"Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average"--became a hit from coast to coast.

"Its a big deal here because it really built the empire that is public radio,"  Justin said. "I don't think Minnesota would be at the forefront of public radio without Garrison Keillor starting 'A Prairie Home Companion.'"

And the show's appeal wasn't just limited to radio.

In 2006, Keillor shared the silver screen with stars like Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and then "it girl" Lindsey Lohan in legendary director Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion" movie shot on location at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

"A Prairie Home Companion is a cottage industry," Justin said. "From cassette tapes to merchandise to coffee mugs."

It may have been the end of a era when Keillor left A Prairie Home Companion last year, but the two will be linked forever in the minds of many Minnesotans.

"Lake Wobegon is in the mist," Justin said. "But our memories of Lake Wobegon--that may change now."

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