Sunday, April 22, 2007

How About that Garrison Keillor?

Free advertising that would have cost International Falls
a small fortune!

by Charlie Leck [21 April 2007]

I have a long standing grudge I hold against Garrison Keillor. It’s a strong enough complaint that it would be reason enough for me to not listen to his show and to not read his books and to not read his column in the Sunday paper. Nevertheless, I continue to do all of those things. I'm nuts about his radio show. He writes some wonderful books – Home Grown Democrat was about one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. I begin every Sunday morning by searching for his column in the opinion section of the paper. Then I go to the sport section.

It was a good twenty years ago, or so, and Keillor and I were supposed to be co-hosts at a reception for a common friend who was just releasing a book, The Sheep Book, through Harper/Collins. The invitations went out to many, many of my friends: “Mr. Garrison Keillor and Mr. Charles Leck invite you to….” And then he didn’t show up – even though I had confirmed everything with his secretary just the day before. I, of course, was totally embarrassed – mortified! I got over it! I’m still a fan.

Last Saturday, late in the afternoon, my wife and I were driving to the airport to use the services of the 24-hour post office out there. It was tax time, you know. On the way, I heard this bit with the mayor of International Falls. That’s a small city, way up on the international border. It’s famous for its cold weather. The city has had a hard time attracting medical doctors and they’re having a real shortage. Keillor let the mayor make a pitch on the radio – right there in the middle of his extremely popular Prairie Home Companion Show. The big star closed the segment out by singing a little ditty he had written about how special just the right doctors would find it to be in this "just the right place. "

They don’t need a psychiatrist,
They’re basically all right
But one who
can remove fishhooks
And can treat frostbite

At the conclusion of the song, the mayor advised Keillor to have it copyrighted because it was really lovely.

“It’s yours,” Keillor told the surprised mayor. “Keep it! Use it however you want.”

I told my wife it was extraordinary and that something like that out in the market would have cost a hundred grand. She looked at me as if I was just a little bit crazy. I went on and on. “He’s done something very special for that town,” I emphasized.

Sure enough! The paper arrived less than a week later with a story about how there had already been calls from doctors around the world. They had heard Keillor’s show and they were interested. Over twenty of them requested more information and applications.

This is one of the wonderful feel-good stories of the year. It sure made me feel good. We might just have to take a drive up to International Falls this year. We’ll pass through Lake Wobegon on the way and stop at that pie place.

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