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'Wits' end: Public radio program in St. Paul canceled and live shows put on hold

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Just a week after the longtime host of "A Prairie Home Companion," Garrison Keillor, announced his retirement, another locally produced public radio program is being taken off the air.

American Public Media announced Monday it has canceled the radio broadcasts of "Wits," a music and comedy program, and is putting its live shows and podcasts on hold. American Public Media, based in St. Paul, produces both programs and distributes them nationally.

A brief announcement was posted to the program's website Monday, and a lengthier message written by host John Moe was sent to members of the Wits "social media club."

He also mourned the loss of the show in a series of tweets.

Wits launched in 2010, primarily as an occasional live comedy and music program featuring nationally known personalities and musicians, and was noted for its heavy social media presence.

A few years later, the live shows became more frequent and they were recorded at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul for distribution to more than 100 public radio stations around the country. Wits also began doing shows on the road in other cities.

The production costs apparently were too much, however; Wits had not turned a profit as of last year, according to the Star Tribune.

"Looking at resources and time, we’re trying to refocus on projects that are more financially sustainable," APM spokeswoman Meggan Ellingboe told the Star Tribune. "We're taking a hiatus to rethink how it could look down the road."

Wits was seen by APM as one possible vehicle to attract younger listeners to public radio. There was also some speculation that Wits could someday replace "A Prairie Home Companion" as APM's premier public radio program, as MinnPost wrote in 2012. (A Prairie Home Companion isn't going anywhere, though. A new host, musician Chris Thile, has been named to replace Keillor.)

But that's all up in the air now, after Monday's decision.

MPR blogger Bob Collins writes it's another sign of how difficult it is for public radio to develop new programs.

It's also another sign of difficulty for APM, which announced recently it's selling its classical music stations in south Florida after losing money on them for years.

APM is the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio, which last week laid off nine people in its regional newsroom.

Moe and his producer will remain at APM to work on a digital version of Wits, that he hopes will have "all the fun, passion and creativity you love, but at a cost and pace we can sustain better than before."

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