American Public Media Group has halted production of “Live From Here,” the successor to “A Prairie Home Companion.” It was the most high-profile casualty in a day of significant cuts at the company.
“While this news fills me with sadness, I understand the decision,” tweeted host Chris Thile, who was chosen by Garrison Keillor to take over “Prairie” when he stepped away in 2016. “My extraordinary teammates and I conceived of ‘Live From Here’ as a celebration of live, collaborative audible art, and there’s just no telling when it could be that again.”
St. Paul-based American Public Media Group, the nonprofit parent of Minnesota Public Radio, American Public Media (APM) and Southern California Public Radio, confirmed Tuesday that 28 employees have been let go. In addition to ending “Live,” it also announced the cancellation of the podcast “The Hilarious World of Depression,” hosted by John Moe.
“I don’t know what the future will be,” tweeted Moe, who previously hosted the radio variety show “Wits” for APM. “I thank them for giving me the opportunity to make the show happen in the first place. It’s a hard day.”
In a statement to the public, CEO Jon McTaggart blamed the global pandemic for the cuts, citing a decline in some revenue sources, including underwriting, corporate sponsorship and ticketed events. The news service Current reported in April that APM Group projected a 19% decline in underwriting for the fiscal year ending June 30, with an even greater decline expected in fiscal year 2021.
“Eliminating jobs was an agonizing decision,” the statement read. “We are saying goodbye to talented and dedicated colleagues. We are grateful for their energy, their skills and the passion they’ve brought to our organization, and we are doing everything we can to support our departing colleagues in this challenging environment.”
“Live” had been drifting away from its Minnesota roots in recent years, especially after APM severed ties with Keillor in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations in 2017. The weekly show was renamed, with Thile eventually dismissing all on-air talent who had been regulars on the original program. Still, the news hit hard for those who will always associate the program with tales from Lake Wobegon.
“[Keillor] hand-picked Chris for his passion and musical genius and he urged him to evolve the show into his own,” said Kate Gustafson, former managing director for both “Prairie” and “Live.” “Chris brought together the highest-quality musicians each week and delivered a truly entertaining show. I truly am sad today for the end of an era.”
Under Thile’s guidance, the show put less of an emphasis on storytelling and cornball humor and became more of a platform for well-known artists. Paul Simon, Randy Newman and Common were all guests on recent episodes.
“Truly enjoyed appearing on this show, and Chris Thile is one of the most brilliant and hardworking musicians on the planet,” tweeted four-time Grammy winner Jason Isbell on Tuesday. “Hate to see it go.”
Last month, 14 employees for the APM Group, which includes The Current radio station and “Marketplace,” took voluntary buyouts. That exodus included six staffers for MPR News, including interim news director Laura McCallum.
In the statement, McTaggart also announced the cancellation of merit-pay increases for all employees in the coming year and the selective reduction of work hours.
“In making these changes, we are focusing our resources on the programming and services our listeners value most — delivering trusted and meaningful listening experiences for curious people to enhance lives, expand perspectives and strengthen communities,” the statement read.