Tom Keith, a radio voice over actor and acclaimed sound-effects man best known for his decades of work on the Minnesota Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion, died October 30 of a heart attack near his home in Woodbury, Minnesota. He was 64 years old and had served in the U.S. Marines Corps from 1965-69.
Keith, a native Minnesotan, played football, baseball, and basketball at Sibley High School in St. Paul, where he also was student council president. He played baseball for one year at the University of Minnesota, then joined the Marine Corps, serving for four years of stateside duty. Keith returned to college and graduated from Minnesota with a degree in speech and broadcasting in 1972. He then starting working nights at MPR, where he began to do sound effects. By the time of his death, Keith was one of the most creative sound effects experts on the radio.
“Whenever Tom came onstage, I could see the audience’s heads turn in his direction,” A Prairie Home Companion founder Garrison Keillor said. “They could hear me, but they wanted to see Tom, same as you’d watch any magician. Boys watched him closely to see how he did the shotgun volleys, the singing walrus, the siren, the helicopter, the water drips. His effects were graceful, precise, understated, like the man himself.”
Keith “was one of radio’s great clowns,” Keillor said. “He was serious about silliness and worked hard to get a moo exactly right and the cluck, too, and the woof. His whinny was amazing — noble, vulnerable, articulate. He did bagpipes, helicopters, mortars, common drunks, caribou … garbage trucks backing up, handsaws and hammers, and a beautiful vocalization of a man falling from a great height into piranha-infested waters.”
The many on-line tributes to Tom Keith includes a page on Minnesota Public Radio with audio and video clips.