July 6, 1974, was the first live broadcast, from the Janet Wallace Auditorium at Macalester College, St. Paul, 4:30 PM. Sutton, Brunelle, Hinkley and Larson, Bob DeHaven, a longtime familiar radio voice of the upper Midwest from WCCO radio, accordionist Ernie Garven, and the Brescian String Quartet performed before an audience of twelve in a 400-seat hall. Margaret Moos sold tickets ($1, fifty cents for children).

The year 1974 saw the first appearances of Butch Thompson, the Hall Brothers jazz Band, Peter Ostroushko (as a teenager), and Charlie Maguire, singer-songwriter. In October the show moved to Variety Hall Theater, 82 seats in Park Square Court across the hall from KSJN, where the newsroom served as the backstage. October also saw the first road trip, to Fargo, ND, and to Moorhead, MN, with Hinkley and Larson, Dakota Dave Hull, and poet Mark Vinz.

Butch Thompson, Vern Sutton, and Sean Blackburn played often this year.

First live broadcast road show, from St. John's University, Collegeville MN. The National Endowment for the Arts began to support PHC, which moved to St. Paul-Ram
sey Arts & Science Center auditorium, 220 seats. To celebrate the move, they opened a bottle of champagne. The radio audience heard the cork pop, and seconds later, when that cork hit a six-year-old kid in the head, a cry of pain. The kid, Ben Ellingson, didn't hold a grudge, though, for he returned to the PHC's 20th anniversary show, where he was introduced to the audience.

This year saw the first appearance of Robin and Linda Williams. The December 20 show featured classical guitarist Jeffrey Van plus Thelma Bucimer and the Minnesota Gospel Twins.

PHC broadcast from all over St. Paul and Minneapolis: the St. Paul-Ramsey Arts & Science Center Sculpture Garden, Nicollet Island, the roof of the Walker Art Center, Lake Harriet, and the College of Art and Design. Steve Gammel, Becky Riemer Thompson, Janis Hardy, and Philip Brunelle performed often. This year saw the first and second Mouth-Offs.

PHC did a benefit for and with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with William McGlaughlin conducting his arrangement of the "Help Me Rhonda" Suite. Summer outdoor broadcasts came from the St. Paul-Ramsey Arts & Science Center Sculpture Garden, continuing through the summer of 1982. Vem Sutton, Philip Brunelle, Dakota Dave Hull, and Sean Blackburn appeared frequently. The show came in September from the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, with the Red Clay Ramblers and in November it moved to St.Thomas College, St. Paul, a 600 seat auditorium.

More collaboration with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, including the PHC-comrnissioned "Weaver's Song and Jig" by Libby Larsen for the Powdermilk Biscuit Band and Orchestra. In March, PHC moved to the World Theater on Exchange and Wabasha, St. Paul. Butch Thompson was joined often by Claudia Schmidt, Papa John Kolstad, the Chenilles, Bill Staines, Jerry Rau, and the Middle Spunk Creek Boys.

February 17: First national live broadcast, from 4,700-seat Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. Carried on National Public Radio's "Folk Festival USA" series, with a cast of more than a hundred. SRO. August 4: Outdoor live broadcast from the Lake Harriet Bandshell, Minneapolis. Audience of 10,000 saw Vem Sutton, Butch Thompson, Biscuit Band, Chatfield Brass Band, and Jack Curtis and Vvhitey Evans and the Westerners. In December, Rich Dworsky made his first appearance.

February 2: Having bounced between 4:30 PM, 5:00; 5:30; then 5:00 and then 5.30 again, then 7:00, 5:30, 6:30, and 6:00 PM, the PHC broadcast time settled at 5:00 PM, CST. Bill Hinkley, Judy Larson, Adam Granger, and the Butch Thompson Trio were regular guests during the year. In March came the first five satellite broadcast, from Crown Center, Kansas City, at a public radio conference, with Butch Thompson, New Prairie Ramblers, Ken Bloom, and Pop Wagner. In May, the national weekly broadcast began from the World Theater, with the Red Clay Ramblers, New Prairie Ramblers, Randy Sabien and Larry Baione, Spider John Koerner, and Butch Thompson. This year saw the first appearance of Greg Brown, the release of the PHC fifth anniversary album (a year late), and the October broadcast from Ames IA before an SRO crowd of 2,500 that won the Peabody Award. MPR bought the World Theater.

Stoney Lonesome (with Kate MacKenzie), Jean Redpath, and Roy Blount Jr. made their first appearances, and become frequent guests. Other guests this year included Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Jimmy Driftwood, the Persuasions, and the Red Clay Ramblers. The first live road show broadcast from outside the Midwest came from the Boston Conservatory of Music.

Chet Atkins and Jethro Burns made their first appearances. Humorist Howard Mohr began a stint of several years as a regular guest. Other guests this year were Odetta, Queen Ida, Sharon Isbin, and frequently, Pop Wagner. The Family Radio album was released. The eleven-minute "Thanksgiving Cantata" by Vern Sutton and Philip Brunelle, was composed from notes of thanks written by members of the audience. A fourteen-year-old kid sneaked every Saturday into the World Theater to watch rehearsals. After a few weeks, Ray Marklund handed him a camera, saying he should make himself useful. He continued hanging around, later became an usher, and even later helped package Powdermilk Biscuit posters for mailing. He stayed around through college, and now David O'Neill works as a PHC production assistant and MPR's special projects manager and archivist.

Peter Ostroushko and Greg Brown became weekly regulars. In August the "Dept. of Folk Song" began as a regular feature. The Tourists album and the News from Lake Wobegon four-cassette "butter-box" were released. During the year the Butch Thompson Trio, Claudia Schmidt, Stoney Lonesome, Charlie Maguire, and Jean Redpath played often.

On January 20, plaster fell from the ceiling of the World, necessitating a swift move to 1,650-seat Orpheum in St. Paul. "Dept. of Folk Song" Clearance Show, fifty-one songs received from folks, including "Great Green Gobs," Junior Birdmen," "Amphioxus," Calorie, Calorah," and "Joe's Got a Head Like a Ping-Pong Ball." July 6-7, observance of tenth anniversary of PHC, including a live broadcast with both the mayor of St. Paul, George Latimer, and the Governor of Minnesota, Rudy Perpich, in the theater. This year saw the Yale Russian Chorus, BeauSoleil, the Canadian Brass, the Tannahill Weavers, Claudia Schmidt, the Boys of the Lough, Peter Schickele, Bobby McFerrin, Manhattan Transfer, and Doc Watson among others. Tapes of older shows were broadcast in Australia and Sweden.

Time magazine discovered PHC and put GK on its cover. In the summer the show moved to Red Wing MN, and in the fall broadcast from Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Laramie, Seattle, Claremont CA, and Hawaii. They returned to Cottonwood MN to a blizzard. Johnny Gimble and Chet Atkins played this year, and often afterward. The Barrett Sisters, the Paul Winter Ensemble, and Emmylou Harris performed. Howard Mohr appeared often with his "Raw Bits" and "Minnesota Language Systems" spots.

Rich Dworksy had replaced Butch Thompson as the "house pianist." PHC move back to the World Theater in March, and had a grand reopening there in April. The show traveled to Alaska and Hawaii in July. The July 12 broadcast from Juneau is remembered as the "Just Say Goodnight" show. GK got caught up in his monologue and almost ran our of time. Stagehand Steve Koeln came on stage with a note, "Three minutes to end of show," and then another "90 Seconds," and finally he handed GK a slip of paper that said, "Say Goodnight." PHC broadcast from the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair in August, where engineer Scott Rivard enjoyed using the sound system of the band Alabama.

On February 14, GK announced that PHC would cease in June. The last eighteen shows from February 14 to June 13 ran in an edited, time-delay version on television on the Disney channel. The Farewell broadcast was the first and last broadcast to run over its time, by forty minutes. Bob and Ray (Elliott and Goulding), Bobby McFerrin, and cowboy singer Glen Ohrlin (who'd been a guest in 1976), the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, New Grass Revival, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, the Yale Russian Chorus, Pat Donohue, and Yo-Yo Ma performed this year.

Reruns were broadcast during most of the year. The Farewell had been so fun GK decided to do a Second Annual Farewell, a tour culminating in a show from New York's Radio City Music Hall in June. In November the "Prairie Home Folk Song Show" with Ray Stevens and the Judds broadcast from Vanderbilt University in Nashville; in December, "An American's Christmas in Copenhagen" was broadcast, complete with the Cathedral Choir of Copenhagen, a visit to other English-speaking residents, and a cookie-baking episode.

More old shows were rebroadcast in February. "A Pretty Good Night at Carnegie Hall" aired on radio and on the Disney channel. In May and June, the "Third Annual Farewell Tour" took shows to eleven states. In November the show resumed as the "American Radio Company of the Air" with broadcasts from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Rather than broadcast fifty shows a year, the season ran for twenty-five shows, and in subsequent years, ranged from thirty-four to thirty-two shows. The Broadway Local Theater Company began its run (to continue through June 1994) with actors Ivy Austin, Pamela McLernon, William Parry, Richard Muenz, Walter Bobbie, Lynne Thigpen, Paul Binotto, Tom Keith, and also Alice Playten, Sue Scott and John McDonough.

The American Radio Company broadcast from BAM and from Lamb's Theater in New York City. Regulars included the Broadway Local Theater Company and Rob Fisher and the Coffee Club Orchestra. Other guests this year included Maureen McGovern, Tito Puente, Pete Seeger, and Flaco Jimenez. The Mark Twain show came from Mark Twain's house in Hartford CT on December 1.

Shows came from Seattle, San Diego, the Bronco Bowl in Dallas (where people had to go through the bowling alley), Chicago, Lexington KY, Memphis, Nashville, Milwaukee, and London. In New York, PHC broadcast from Lamb's Theater, Symphony Space, and the New York Public Library. The show also went to Willa Cather's hometown, Red Cloud NE, and then to Burlington VT for three weeks. Among this year's guests were Carl Perkins and the Appalachian Association of Sacred Harp Singers. A live broadcast from London in March 1991 began at 11:00 pm.
After the show the cast and crew, hungry at 2:00 pm, could find an open restaurant.

In March, GK announced a return to Minnesota. Broadcasts came from the World Theater (six), and eighteen other locations, including a "PHC Hymn Sing" from Concordia College in Moorhead, a Buddy Holly show from Clear Lake, IA, and a Walt Whitman show from Brooklyn. Mr. (Fred) Rogers appeared this year, as did Robert Bly and Allen Ginsberg.

Shows broadcast from the World Theater, Birmingham, in a blizzard, St. Louis, Tulsa, Fort Worth, Lincoln NE, Seattle, San Jose, Madison, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Town Hall in New York. In October the show resumed the Prairie Home Companion name. Rich Dworsky played piano, and guests this year included the Turtle Island String Quartet, Toby Twining Music, Marilyn Horne, and Lyle Lovett.

Tim Russell made his first appearance. Other guests in the year included Cokie Roberts, Vince Gill, Iris DeMent, and, on the 20th anniversary show, Ernie Garven, who had appeared on the first broadcast. One of the audience for the first show, Anee Ulmer, came back to attend the 20th Anniversary show. In October, the World Theater became the Fitzgerald. The show toured in February, May, June, July and November. The year ended with two New Year's Eve shows from St. Paul.

The year opened with six shows at the Fitzgerald, and then February, March and April broadcasts came from Baton Rouge, Amherst, Nashville, and St. Paul. May, June and July broadcasts came from Hartford, San Diego, Concord CA, Salt Lake City, Jackson MS, Chautaugua NY, and Interlochen. Summer vacation extended from July through September. Fall season guests included Janis Hardy, Maria Jette, Jearlyn Steele Battle, Elizabeth Comeaux, James Galway, and Joel Grey, the latter signing a Yiddish parody of "Home of the Range." Other guests this year were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, John Prine, Gil Shaham, R. Crumb and the Cheap Suit Serenaders, Eric Bogle, and Jack Lemmon playing the piano.

PHC broadcast from St. Paul, Vancouver BC (with a translator turning English into French), Anchorage, Chapel Hill, Columbus OH, Billings, San Antonio, Savannah, Interlochen, Town Hall in New York, Ann Arbor, and Memphis. "Where Do Jokes Come From, and Where Do They Go?" in April was the first of the annual joke shows. James Earl Jones made his second appearance, and September 28 was the F. Scott Fitzgerald show.

Broadcasts from the Fitzgerald, from Dallas, Muncie IN, Norfolk VA, Columbia MO, Ithaca NY, Akron, Miami Beach, Oklahoma City, Seattle, Yellowstone Park, Chicago, and New York City. The Polka Show came from the ballroom in Gibbon MN. At a show in June, in Woodville WA, a Seattle suburb, the GAS band had been on a break, and were called back for additional rehearsal. Greg Hippen leaped onto the stage, not seeing the business end of a large boom stand in his landing path. His forehead struck the counterweight of the boom stand, putting a deep gash just above his left eye, about two hours before show time. The paramedics cleaned him up and took him to the hospital, three miles away. The emergency room had a long waiting list, as this was a Saturday. The nurse on duty said Greg had eight hours before his injury before his injury would heal too much for them to stitch it. The driver took Greg back to the stage and he peformed with a large bandage on his forehead, and returned to the hospital after the show to have the injury cleaned and stitched.

Shows from St. Paul, San Francisco, Portland OR, New York, Canton NY, Austin, Durango, Portland ME, Spokane, Kansas City MO, and Atlanta. The year's guests included writers Ian Frazier, Billy Collins, and Rita Dove; Frederica Von Stade, Dave Frishberg, Tish Hinojosa, and Iris DeMent.

Shows from St. Paul, Peoria IL, Minneapolis, and in the summer, Butte MT, Greeley CO, Reno, Knoxville, and Wolf Trap in VA. The Tannahill Weavers, the Boys of the Lough, Gillian Welch, Geoff Muldaur, Keb' Mo', Garrick Ohlsson, Al Franken, and Robert Bly appeared. PHC celebrates its 25th anniversary.

And return to 25th Anniversary
Copyright 2000 Minnesota Public Radio and Garrison Keillor.