For his fifth book, Garrison Keillor returns to a series of short stories he wrote for his first. Most of the pieces collected in that first book, Happy to Be Here, are unconnected parodies, satires, or tales, but four of them use the theme of an early radio station, its founding, its stars, and its shows. Keillor takes those four stories, modifies them, and builds on them to create WLT: A Radio Romance.
The original four stories start with “WLT (The Edgar Era)” and explain the origin of the radio station. The Edgar brothers initially try broadcasting as a merchandising ploy for their restaurant. According to regulations of the Federal Communications Commission, the call letters of all radio stations are supposed to begin with the letters W or K, depending on whether their transmitters are located east or west of the Mississippi River. The Edgars take advantage of that rule and give their call letters a double meaning: because theirs is a sandwich restaurant, they call the station WLT, standing for “with lettuce and tomato.” The three other early stories, named for WLT’s most popular shows, are “The Slim Graves Show,” “Friendly Neighbor,” and “The Tip-top Club.”
The seeds from which WLT: A Radio Romance emerges are those four early stories, but Keillor feels no obligation to use the same characters and situations he created ten or more years earlier and just extend them. Instead he changes names and personalities. He expands themes and settings. In particular, he changes tone.