Some public radio execs worry about life after Keillor

When Ray and Tom Magliozzi retired from producing their public radio show, “Car Talk,” in 2012, NPR and public radio stations had an easy decision how to survive their absence — they aired reruns. The show was too important to give up. It’s the very “sound” of public radio on Saturdays.

Garrison Keillor’s decision to walk away from “A Prairie Home Companion” and put the show in the hands of a mandolin player means the show is going to change. If there’s one thing radio — listeners and station managements — is uncomfortable with, it’s change.

If there’s one thing the radio needs, it’s change. See the problem?

An article today in Current, the public radio news site, suggests A Prairie Home Companion will have a challenge holding its status as part of the “sound” of public radio.

Some public radio stations are considering alternatives to the long-running program, which would’ve been broadcasting heresy back in the day.

“Back when it was newer, it got an excited response,” Bill Thomas, director of radio at Prairie Public Broadcasting in Fargo, N.D., said. “It’s an old show. It’s not as must-listen as it once was.”

The show airs on 692 stations, and Current says some program directors are nervous that they don’t know how the new program is going to sound.

“I respect that it may be kind of early to be sharing a whole lot, but I don’t think a lot of time should pass before we get a clear idea what path the show is taking,” Bill Anderson, program director at KCUR in Kansas City, Mo., told Current.

“We can never raise any money around that thing to save our lives,” a San Diego programmer said.

But the same programmer says he’s going to keep the show on the air because he doesn’t have anything else. That, like the non-retirement retirement of “Car Talk,” is an increasing refrain as public radio’s legacy shows reach the end of their first lives.

From the archive: The night Garrison Keillor consoled a grieving state (NewsCut)