When "Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company" returns to the air live Saturday night (at 6 on WETA-FM 90.9), listeners can expect to hear more Keillor and less about New York City than was heard last year when the much-ballyhooed radio entertainer made his return to America and American radio.
"You'll be hearing up front more from Garrison," promised Chris Tschida, newly hired to produce the two-hour show. "We are trying to do the material that comes to Garrison. He really is the creative force on the show."
After the show's season ended last spring, a survey of the 248 member stations airing the weekly Minnesota Public Radio production indicated that some stations felt it was too urban, too New York, and not enough Keillor. Defenders of the show say part of the problem was that it was often compared with "A Prairie Home Companion," Keillor's immensely popular and long-running variety show that was broadcast from St. Paul, Minn., until June 1987, when he moved to Denmark with his new bride to live the life of "a shy person." But the biggest complaint by stations was the cost of the program. They shared the $2.6 million budget for last year's 24 shows, and about a third surveyed said financial limitations might keep them from renewing their contracts with the show's syndicator, American Public Radio. Two more shows have been added to this year's budget, which has been increased 11.5 percent to $2.9 million.
"A lot of the stations have been hit real hard by a withdrawal of state funding. They are looking at tight budgets, and some are cutting out any program that has a carriage fee," said Sue Freieremuth, APR's manager of broadcast services. "A lot of stations have been backing out of nationally distributed programs -- not just this one -- and using the staff that they already have on hand."
Freieremuth estimated that there will be 30 fewer stations starting the second season on Saturday, but predicted that additional stations would sign on as the season progressed.
WETA-FM will pay $18,000 this year for the show, which it also rebroadcasts Sundays at 1 p.m., and expects to recoup that during its fall and winter fund-raising drives. Keillor's show attracted about 30,000 listeners per Saturday night last winter and spring, according to Arbitron. During the heyday of "A Prairie Home Companion," nearly 280 stations aired the show to an estimated 7 million listeners each Saturday. While that kind of success may be a long way off, most station programmers have faith in Keillor and his ability to shine again in the limelight.
"He takes off where Will Rogers left off in the tradition of the great American humorists. And he is the only one doing it," said Tim Owens, WETA's program director. "I think that there was some risk-taking on his part to try new things last year. Some succeeded and some didn't. I think what we'll hear this year will be more Garrison, since he's the glue that holds the whole thing together."
The show, which has moved to Lamb's Theatre near Broadway from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has dropped the weekly "story of Gloria" feature starring Ivy Austin but will provide occasional updates on Gloria. Bob Elliott, of Bob and Ray fame, is scheduled to work on the Fox-TV show "Get a Life" (starring his son Chris) through the fall and is not expected to return until spring, according to Tschida. Saturday's featured guests are Maureen McGovern and the Gregg Smith Singers. Upcoming guests include contemporary comic and HBO regular Paula Poundstone (Oct. 13), the Roches (Oct. 27), Pete Seeger (Nov. 3) and Victor Borge (Nov. 24).
In and Out of Sick Bay Former Joy Boy Ed Walker has been hospitalized at Sibley Memorial Hospital following a dizzy spell on Thursday.
"It's my high blood pressure. I worried myself in here," Walker said yesterday. "I'm just overanxious. I'll be fine. I'm alive and kicking and should get out of here tomorrow or the next day. I just need some rest."
Walker, 58, and partner Bruce Alan were fired June 29 from talk station WWRC-AM (980) and replaced by M.L. Williams, a confrontation-style talker whose reign lasted 11 weeks. Williams's replacement, Scott Carpenter, is more in the warm and fuzzy style of Walker/Alan. "They mess up everybody's life and then go back to what they were doing," Walker said of WWRC management. "I just don't get it."
Pending his release, Walker expects to continue making commercials on a freelance basis while looking for full-time work. Alan began working part-time over the weekend at news-sports-talk WTOP-AM (1500).
Meanwhile, WDCU-FM's (90.1) veteran jazz announcer Felix Grant emceed groundbreaking ceremonies on Sunday for the $13.2 million Cancer Institute at the Washington Hospital Center, a state-of-the-art treatment center scheduled to open in January 1992. The new hospital's director is Paul Sugarbaker, who operated on Grant 14 months ago for colon and liver cancer. Grant, 71, says he feels great and that his cancer is in remission.
Shop Talk Over at seminar city, First Class Inc. offers "How to Get a Better Job in Broadcast News," given by WTOP-AM's operations manager, Holland Cooke, on Oct. 13. The six-hour Saturday course begins at 10 a.m. and costs $59. For details call 202-797-5102.