Backstage at A Prairie Home Companion

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A look backstage at one of America's most-loved radio programs

The entire production uses 40 to 84 mics at any given show. The mixing console has 96 inputs, so there is a limit to how many audio feeds can be taken. In addition to the mics to capture the performers, there are also audience mics to pick up the applause and laughter, which complete the aural canvas of the broadcast production. All the audio sources are split between the two Yamaha consoles (one for broadcast, one for house).

Performers on stage have open monitors and headphones. In-ear monitors were considered, but Keillor often talks to performers directly, and pulling out an in-ear monitor was not practical. The headphones are fed from final stereo broadcast mix. There is no IFB in the monitor. The broadcast mix also feeds some speakers on stage that are provided for the audience seats behind the performers.

The broadcast begins at 5 p.m. CT. About 15 minutes before show time, the band takes the stage and begins to play. Minutes before show time, Keillor comes out and says a few words. The audience listens and waits for the top of the hour. The organized chaos of the past two days comes together and the broadcast begins.

The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band provides the music for the broadcast. (© 2011 Prairie Home Productions)

The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band provides the music for the broadcast. (© 2011 Prairie Home Productions)

The live broadcast is recorded in multitrack to Protools, and there is also a stereo mix recorded as a backup. There are also two DVD recorders running; one gets the show with all the intros and credits, the other is clean without the intros. A CD player provides the show's intros and credits for playback.

During the broadcast, the stereo broadcast mix is sent across the street to the studios of Minnesota Public Radio via an equalized copper pair. From there, the program is satellite uplinked from MPR for distribution. As a backup, an ISDN feed also carries the program via a Worldcast APT Eclipse codec. These codecs are also used when the show is broadcast from other locations. In the still rare situations when ISDN is not available, a C-band satellite uplink truck will be used.

After 37 years, "A Prairie Home Companion" recalls the days of the classic radio variety show, but takes advantage of modern tools to create a unique listening experience. Classic radio lives on from its regular home in St. Paul, MN.

- continued on page 4

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