Review: The News from Lake Wobegon (Podcast)

First, you should probably know that beyond knowing who Garrison Keillor was, and having once or twice heard snippets of A Prairie Home Companion, I knew little before I decided to give this podcast a listen. It may also interest you that I’d never really liked NPR a lot, though I also didn’t hate it.

Having said that, I think that “The News from Lake Wobegon” (available here, free of course), a segment from A Praire Home Companion, is a great 10 to 15 minutes of radio. It’s good enough that I’m beginning to resent the fact that American Public Media doesn’t offer the entire show as a podcast. They do offer it online, and of course over traditional radio, but I desire the absolute convenience of the podcast.

Regardless, the magic of “The News from Lake Wobegon” is that it is soaked in the myth of the small town. The town, “out there on the edge of the prairie,” doesn’t actually exist, which allows Keillor all the freedom to fill it with dozens of interesting people and their stories.

The stories are as simple as they are quintessentially human. In a particularly memorable episode, for Memorial Day, Keillor tells us the story of the greatest speech ever given at Lake Wobegon’s Memorial Day festivities. But before he gets there, he tells us about the weather, the weekend, past Memorial Days and finally the story. This diversion doesn’t feel like it stalls too much or is heinously artificial, but rather that it is a natural and necessary to the fabric of the story. Don’t think that you’ll never wish it would hurry, but sometimes you think the same things in normal conversation.

The story of Clarence Bunson’s speech honoring the fallen dead begins with his words:

If there were a time when words were inappropriate, when silence was the most articulate speech, it would be here and now. Better than any oratory, better than any speech or poem for you and I to stand two minutes in silence and look out at those whom we know and those whom we do not know and think of all that they did for us.

The story ends with a revelation, at which you can guess, but would never have expected at the start.

The monologue is alway filled with magnificent stories of the average. The best kind of average that anyone can enjoy. The kind of average that constantly reminds us that we need not be famous or good looking to be interesting. To be real. To be human.

If you only listen to one podcast your whole life… no that’s too arbitrary a criteria. If you’re looking for a good podcast, I would offer that you should give this one a chance.