Noah Adams show bows in old Keillor time slot. For `Prairie Home' fans the new `Good Evening' has a semi-familiar sound

Good Evening Saturday, 5-6:30 p.m. central time (check public radio listings). Variety show aired live from the World Theater in St. Paul, Minn. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio. Hosted by Noah Adams. Yes, you will miss the resonant Garrison Keillor presence as you begin listening to this - the successor to his renowned ``A Prairie Home Companion.'' But when Mr. Keillor decided to leave that program last June, Minnesota Public Radio knew it couldn't duplicate a talent so fervently followed by millions of Americans and wisely decided not to try.

Instead, ``Good Evening'' is distinctly its own show, though it continues a richly worthwhile tradition. In Mr. Adams - previously best known as co-host of National Public Radio's ``All Things Considered'' - listeners have a subtly low-key, highly appealing new host who knows how to weave together the show's music, talk, readings, and tidbits without striving for phony ``segues.'' Last Saturday he skillfully proved this despite a temporarily hoarse voice, for which he repeatedly had to apologize.

For frustrated ``Companion'' fans, the new show has a semi-familiar sound. Adams reads letters from listeners and says he'll keep it up - offering ``letters from history,'' as he said Saturday, and ``letters as literature.'' He offers comedy bits like an interview with ``mom and pop radio actuality'' producers who sell background sounds for hokey radio news shows. And the music has a country flavor - though it may also mix in a more mod sound.

The difference, of course, is what departed with Keillor himself. The new show seems less idiosyncratic, less likely to duck suddenly into one of the creative comic byways that were always lurking in Keillor's imagination. It was positively sobering, in fact, to hear opening credits for funders of the new show and realize they were legit - that the show was no longer brought to you by the mythical ``Powdermill Biscuits.'' When Adams chitchats with a friend named ``Harold'' about St. Paul weather, you can tell that everything's a little straighter. The new program pokes gentle fun at its own cracker barrel image - but without the wry reflectiveness you always sensed echoing in the recesses of Keillor's cavernous voice.

What really distinguished ``Companion'' was the Keillor monologue, ``News From Lake Wobegon.'' It's greatly to the new show's credit that it doesn't attempt to duplicate this beguiling feature. Adams did offer his own ``Notes From St. Croix'' - a nice touch full of homely comic detail. But the deep searching of small-town life is gone.

Closest in length and feel to the Keillor monologue were excerpts from ``Optimists,'' a short story read by Richard Ford from his collection ``Rock Springs'' (Atlantic Monthly Press). ``If you're a writer, your principal business is paying attention,'' Mr. Ford said to Adams before reciting his sensitive though harsh lesson of life about a killing remembered by a 15-year-old boy. A good author reading his work on the air is something to be treasured. It was art on the radio.

Keillor's monologue, on the other hand, was the art of radio. He wrote things down in advance but then expanded them on the air - a technique he once described to me as an evolving, hybrid process. The result on Keillor's show was an all-embracing feeling that wrapped itself around a listener and also seemed to contain the show itself.

``Good Evening,'' though, manages nicely without such an overwhelming presence. Adams and the rest are part of the show, not vice versa. They fit beautifully inside, and Adams in particular brings a sense of modesty and intelligence to all that happens.

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