For real this time? Garrison Keillor plans to 'transition' off A Prairie Home Companion

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Garrison Keillor, the longtime host of public radio's A Prairie Home Companion, has talked off and on in previous years about retiring from the program, only to back off from those plans. So skeptics (like MPR News blogger Bob Collins) can be forgiven for not taking Keillor's latest comments on the subject too seriously.

This time does seem different, though.

In an interview with the Berkshire Eagle newspaper in Massachusetts late last week, Keillor, 72, laid out a plan that will allow him to "transition" out of his role as host over the next year or two, and gradually turn over those duties to musician Chris Thile.

Thile, 34, is a mandolin player and singer with Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers. He was a guest host of Prairie Home for two shows in February.

They must have gone well because he'll host two more in the upcoming 2015-2016 season, Keillor told the Eagle. Thile and Keillor will also co-host several of the other shows, he said.

"Chris is my man," said Keillor, "and I'm eager to stay home and read books. But of course, I'll do whatever needs to be done to assure an easy transition."

Thile himself confirmed the gist of Keillor's comments in a separate interview with Mandolin Cafe.

"Everything Garrison said is true, and I'm really excited," said Thile.

Keillor is expected to remain actively involved in the program for at least the next few years as a performer, writer and executive producer, according to the Eagle.

Thile told Mandolin Cafe he has "tremendous respect" for A Prairie Home Companion, which Keillor has hosted for 41 years. The program airs on some 600 public radio stations and has a weekly audience of about four million listeners.

Thile added that some parts of the show may change over time, but it will continue its role in nurturing up-and-coming musicians.

Keillor first began speaking publicly about retiring a few years ago. In 2011 he told the AARP Bulletin he was looking for a new host for A Prairie Home Companion because he planned to retire from the show in the spring of 2013.

But he later walked back from those plans, and told the Associated Press late last year he was making plans for the upcoming season.

The 2016-17 season is still being planned, Keillor told the Eagle; by then, he expects to be a guest, but not the host.

There's been no word about the hosting plans on the Prairie Home website or social media as yet.

Keillor was in the Berkshires to put on a live show at Tanglewood Saturday evening.

A Prairie Home Companion closes out its current season with a live broadcast on July 4 from the Great Lawn at Macalester College in St. Paul.

Keillor and the rest of the Prairie Home cast and crew will spend late July and all of August on the road on their America the Beautiful tour.

Here's a profile of Thile from 2013.

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